Resist the urge to prune as winter weather sets in

Sunday, January 11, 2004

If you have an insatiable urge to tidy up this time of year, go ahead and rake the remaining leaves or cut down stalks of perennial flowers. But don't prune trees, shrubs, or vines.

Colder weather and short days have been ushering woody plants into winter by inducing them to cease growth and toughen up. Pruning a branch now could have the opposite effect, prompting buds to grow into shoots or at least stimulating cells right at the pruning cut. Pruning this time of year also leaves open wounds that won't begin healing over until warm weather settles in next spring.

To make matters worse, this time of year also finds many fungal spores wafting about in the air. Some of these spores are those of fungi that cause diseases in the branches of woody plants. Those spores are just floating around looking for easy entry into gaping wounds.

Don't you agree that it would be better to delay pruning until next spring, when frigid temperatures are no longer a threat and wounds heal quickly?

Still, a few instances make pruning now tolerable. Its OK to prune away any branches that already are either diseased or dead. Also prune plants such as hybrid tea roses if you garden where their stems need protection to survive winter and flower next summer.

On other kinds of bushes, there are stems that are going to be dead by winter's end anyway, or else the old stems are no longer wanted. Butterfly bush is one of those bushes whose stems succumb to winter cold in northern areas, so they might as well be cut back. Even where they don't succumb to winter cold, they also should be cut down because such pruning stimulates lush new growth. Butterfly bush bears its flowers only on new growth and the bush will again be a fountain of lanky stems capped by wonderfully fragrant blossoms by the end of late summer.

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