Unlike last winter, this winter has brought us cold weather. Last January, I wrote about flowers that were
beginning to bud and blossom out of season, and I was afraid that frost would
come while they were in a vulnerable state and kill them. All my plants are convinced that they should
remain dormant this winter, and I see no buds on plants that should be dormant.
|This 'Mahonia' my grandmother dug from her woods is supposed to have buds. Honeybees visit it when it flowers on days its warm enough for them to fly during February.|
According to my own experience and according to the Columbia
Garden Club’s book “Gardening Notes for South Carolina,” January and early
February are a good time to prune trees and shrubs that do not bloom in the
spring such as evergreen shrubs and many trees.
Because my shrubs are dormant now, I can prune them without worrying
that the pruning will spur new growth that the frost might kill. I pruned my ligustrum topiaries a few weeks
ago, and I am glad they will remain in their neat spherical shape until they
resume growth in the spring.
On any shrub or tree, at any time of the year, I remove
dead, diseased, or broken branches. If I have difficulty determining whether
branches on deciduous trees or shrubs are dead or just dormant, I bend the
branch gently. If the branch is pliable,
it is alive and if it snaps, it is dead.
If the branch is too large to bend, I scratch the bark with my
fingernail; a live branch is green inside and a dead branch is gray or brown.
A favorite activity of landscapers this time of year is
mauling crape myrtle trees and pruning otherwise naturally-shaped shrubs into
cubes. People cut off the top branches
of crape myrtle trees very short, so that the trees look like a slender
pincushion with pins protruding off the top instead of enjoying the graceful,
natural form of the tree.
|My natural-looking crape myrtle. Would you rather look at it all winter, or would you rather see|
|these poor trees?|
tree this way is supposed to promote more blossoms than allowing it to grow
naturally, but my trees have abundant blossoms and are attractive all
year. I prune mine by cutting off
branches that cross or are diseased or broken, but I leave the long graceful
form of the branches alone. I also thin
the tree by cutting off branches at the trunk.
Thinning the tree allows air to circulate and helps prevent mold.
“Prune after bloom” is a good rule of thumb, so do not prune
forsythia, hydrangeas, azaleas, and camellias, among other spring-blooming
shrubs, until after they bloom. If you
prune them before they bloom, you will cut of the flower buds and will have to
wait until next year for blossoms.
hedge trimmers to shape boxwoods and hollies into squared-off shapes, if you
prefer it, but please do not prune azaleas, camellias, forsythia, loropetalum,
and other shrubs with graceful, flowing branches into little squares or
balls. Flowering shrubs are much more
attractive, and easier to maintain, if you allow them to maintain their natural form.
Reduce size by cutting off entire branches with loppers, not by giving
them a haircut with hedge trimmers.
If you must prune shrubs several times a year to keep them
under control, the repeated chore is a sign that you have a shrub in the wrong
place. It may be too big for its spot,
or it may have an unruly nature in a place where you would like a neat shrub. Perhaps both you and the shrub would be
happier if you removed it and put something more appropriate to the space in
|My poor loropetalum that I butchered to get to a manageable size. Actually I tried to cut it back and kill it, because it was an ongoing obstacle in the driveway. I paid $25 per shrub to get the dwarf variety, but they are enormous shrubs and not appropriate for the space.|