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Winter is prime time to prune some plants

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Winter doesn't offer a total break from garden chores. Now is a prime time to prune plants, but only if you need to, University of Georgia experts say.

"Not everything needs to be pruned," said Bob Westerfield, a UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist.

When to prune

"Wait to prune early spring bloomers like forsythia, dogwood or azaleas after their blooms fade," he said. "Pruning now will cut off the buds that have formed on the tips of the branches and you'll lose your spring blooms."

Later-blooming plants can be pruned now through the end of February. These include summer-blooming crape myrtles, butterfly bushes, gardenias and plants that aren't known for their flowering, such as hollies and other evergreens.

Why and how to prune

There are three main reasons to prune. "One is to reclaim a space that's overgrown," Westerfield said. "Another is to remove dead wood, and a third is to invigorate growth and reshape a plant."

Knowing how to prune is just as important as knowing what to prune. "Avoid shearing or hedging plants," he said. "That will cause a heavy canopy to develop on the top of the plant and restrict new growth from inside the plant."

The best method is to carefully select whole branches to remove that will reshape the plant to the form you want. "Always make your cut just outside the branch collar of ... a main branch or just behind a bud," Westerfield said.

One way to reclaim severely overgrown plants is called rejuvenation or renewal pruning. This requires cutting the main stems back to about 8 inches above the ground.

"The best time to do this is when plants are dormant between now and the end of February," Westerfield said. "This works for many varieties of plants."

However, don't do this to conifers or boxwoods, he said, or to plants you want to bloom this season.

Improper pruning can lead to problems. "Making pruning cuts incorrectly often leaves stubs that tend to become wet and decay, attracting harmful pests," Westerfield said. "Be sure to use quality, razor-sharp hand pruners to make clean cuts and prevent fraying branches."

Get quality tools

Don't cut corners when buying pruning equipment. "Buy quality equipment, with replaceable parts," Westerfield said. "Be sure to maintain it by keeping it sharp, clean and oiled."

For more information on what plants to prune and how to do it, get the free UGA Extension publication, "Basic Principles of Pruning Woody Ornamentals."

Get the publication online at 0036 ht tp://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubs/pdf/B949.pdf 02BD or from your county UGA Extension office. You can find the office nearest you at www.ugaextension.com . Or just call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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