“Should I Prune Now or Wait?”November 26, 2008
When to prune is one of the top 10 questions I get. (Hmmm…maybe I should do a top ten list for the end of the year. Anyone want to read that? Anyone want to hazard putting out a question to see if it makes the top ten?) Okay, back on topic — when should you prune.
Honestly, there’s no perfect, single answer to this question. The plant’s habit, the environment, your tolerance for what things look like, and your time availability can all impact the answer. What I can tell you are a few basic rules about pruning timing:
- When does your plant flower? If your plant flowers in early winter, then it will have all its flowers set by summer. So, don’t prune it in fall or you’ll miss the flowers. Best to prune it right after it finishes blooming. Or, take a few cuttings while the plant is blooming in mid-winter to enjoy indoors as a reminder that spring is on the way!
- Is your plant frozen? You can prune in the middle of winter when plants are frozen, but I usually wait. Branches hold water through the winter and can become very fragile and brittle in very cold weather. It’s easy to make a bad break during these times.
- Shearing hedges: I’ve said it so many times before that I won’t go into much here, but shearing is best left until late winter/early spring just before the plant really pops into new growth. If you cut it in fall or early winter, you’ll be looking at ugly cuts all winter long. And, if the plant responds to your cuts with new growth in winter, you may have some dead spots when that delicate new growth gets zapped in a freeze.
- When do I prune my apple/cherry/plum/peach/raspberries and other fruiting plants? I get this question often, and there is more than one answer to when to prune fruiting plants. I like to clean out raspberries in late winter and many fruit trees as well. But, disease infestations, specific cultivars and more can play into the answer. Best to work with a coach to work on your specifics!
- Cleaning out the dead: This is something you can do just about any time. If your plant has lots of dead branches, is filled with dead leaves or has lots of suckers coming up from the ground, get out there whenever you can and work on cleaning things up. Keep in mind the rule about freezing weather, but this is a great winter chore when plants have lost their leaves and their form and structure is beautifully visible.
- I have the time to do something now not in February: Time is something that comes at a premium for all of us. If you find yourself with a couple of hours to focus on the garden, then go for it. Just keep the rules above in mind and keep yourself bundled up, warm and dry.
If I managed to leave out a specific pruning question of yours, please let me know. Also, keep in mind these are just some general recommendations. What to prune and when to prune can be much more complicated and may require a site visit to evaulate.