pondering a bout of mid-winter pruning

Century-old apple tree prunedIF THE BIG CHILL BACKS OFF A BIT MORE, I MIGHT GO PRUNE—at least remove the water sprouts that jut up vertically from branches of older fruit trees and magnolias here, and will never amount to anything but a mess that casts shade and wastes energy. I thought I’d remind you to look for opportunities in your own yard to get at the first pruning tasks (and get out of the house), things like these:

Fruit-tree pruning, as mentioned in the February garden chores, is a perfect way to get a mid- to late-winter jump on things.

Cutting out infested Viburnum twigs loaded with viburnum leaf beetle egg cases before they hatch will reduce your problem with these tricky pests.

The three D’s of dead, damaged and diseased wood, can always go, no matter the month. Survey the yard for such wood anywhere, on any plant. Eliminate suckers at the base of grafted trees and shrubs, like crabapples, or on sucker-prone lilacs, for instance.

I’ll wait until next month, though, to stool twig dogwoods and willows that haven’t had a haircut in a couple of years. Hard pruning (also called coppicing, down near the ground) forces a fresh crop of colorful twigs.

Buddleia and other cutback shrubs will get their hard pruning then, too—probably late in the month, just before growth would begin.

I’ll also wait until March to prune the few roses I have; just around the time that the buds begin to show signs of swelling.

  1. marie says:

    The rabbits have done most of the rose pruning already!
    They have seen to extreme pruning of almost everything on the place this winter, so I guess I’m ahead of the February/March chores?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Marie. That’s one way to look at it. The other way: Add “install rabbit-proofing measures to all beds” to your chores list. :) No way to garden with deer, rabbits or woodchucks in residence; tell them they are not welcome! Hope to see you (but not the bunnies) again soon.

  2. mark marino says:

    Thanks for all of the great pruning tips and reminders –
    Been using some of the rainy weather to get the shears, loppers and saws all sharpened up –
    Now as soon as the rain stops am ready to get out there and follow your great advice – mm

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Farmer Mark. :) I took a short walk today down the road here, and the light was stronger and I felt optimistic…spring will be here before too long. I should go clean/sharpen tools as you say and really be ready for a pruning adventure. Good reminder…I should have mentioned that, too. Hope to see you again soon.

  3. Jan says:

    I have a parsley-leaved hawthorn that appears to have cedar rust gall. It is near a serviceberry tree or shadbush that I love. Should I get rid of the hawthorn?

  4. Providence Acres Farm - Sheryl says:

    Good way to get out in the winter sun! I would love to prune this week but I seem to have a problem with the equipment. My chainsaw needs some repair and cleaning before I use it again and my good clippers dissappeared in late summer. I must have left them out in the field somewhere. I should buy new ones this year anyway.

  5. What a wonderful old tree and a great photo.

    Hmm, wish I could do some pruning. A quick look following our brief snow melt reveals that the deer have done all the pruning already to their hearts (and tummies) content.

    Must definitely invest in deer proof landscaping-lol. Does that even exist?

    Hope all is well on your end.

  6. Joan from Minnesota says:

    I usually try to prune the apple trees during the “January thaw.” We definitely got a thaw this year, but I’m afraid I missed my opportunity – at least in January. I’ll try again when the weather warms. My older apples (one 25 years, one 40+ years) send up lots of vertical shoots which have to be trimmed to promote fruiting and let light into the tree. A sign of spring, or at least late winter….

  7. Ted says:

    I’m a contrarian when it comes to pruning. Early on in my gardening life I read that pruning in the winter or spring encourages growth at the pruning site, while pruning in the late summer or early fall discourages growth at that site. It intuitively made sense to me and it’s what I usually do. So far so good.

  8. Lynn says:

    Do you have advice on a red twig dogwood? I’ve been cutting the tallest ones down to almost the ground. It’s spectacular right now, with a backdrop of bamboo. I would like it to stay the size it is …6x6ish. I’m still unsure of how much it grows in a season. zone7. Thanks

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lynn. Do you know what variety it is? Normally they reach about 6 feet here, or at least the cultivars I have grown do, though some others get to 10 feet. You can cut out the oldest stems to the ground each year to make room for more fresh red ones, or cut the whole thing down every other year or two. Not sure how fast to say it will rebound there.

  9. Cynthia says:

    Hi Margaret,
    love, love, love your site!
    Do you have any tips on pruning wisteria? I’m in the same zone as you are and have 8 Wisteria macrostachya “clara mack” that I am training on a pergola.
    Thank you!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cynthia. In case people don’t know, ‘Clara Mack’ is an American wisteria, and white-flowered. It is said to be much less rampant than the more common Asian types (Wisteria sinessis or W. floribunda), and blooms at a younger age.

      I have not grown it here, but Brooklyn Botanic Garden says about pruning: “it flowers on short, leafy shoots, or pedicels, that arise from buds on the previous year’s wood. To encourage flowering, head back stems after blooms have faded; if necessary, head back a second time in late winter, leaving at least three or four buds. Train shoots to establish a framework or increase vine height; head back once the desired height and width have been achieved. Old plants can be renewed by severe pruning, almost to the ground.”

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