With your backyard looking a bit barren and frozen right now, you might think your gardening to-do list is complete for the year. Not so! If you want your perennial trees, shrubs and plants to produce beautiful foliage, flowers and fruits next spring and summer, it's time for you to get out the pruning sheers.
Some plants that go dormant in the winter are perfect for pruning, because when they awaken in the spring, they'll concentrate their energy on producing new, stronger growth. For example, summer-blooming plants and shrubs like butterfly bush and potentilla shrubs are perfect. Because they bloom later in the warmer months, winter-time pruning is best to encourage a cascade of aromatic flowers. They'll develop their blooms off the growth that occurs during the current season. For plants that bloom only once in spring, wait to prune until after they've completed their blooming. They grow new blooms that will pop the next spring starting in July, so make sure you don't prune them anytime after mid-July.
The Homestead Gardens staff recommends you also put the following plants on your pruning list during these winter months:
* Decorative shrubs that don't flower, like barberry and burning bush.
* Leafy shade trees that have lost all leaves. Keep in mind some trees like maples will ooze sap when cut. These wounds are known as bleeders. Wounds that result in flowing sap will not hurt the tree, but might make the process a bit messy.
* Fruit trees. You might be surprised to discover winter pruning is recommended for fruit trees, because pruning will remove some of the buds. But the benefit of pruning allows you to open up the tree foilage a bit, resulting in a better crop. Winter pruning also prevents the tree wound from being exposed to summer diseases that can hurt the tree or damage the fruit.
* Berry-producing bushes. Bush berries like blueberries also need thinning to continue producing high quantities of fruit. It's recommended to cut back your plants by about a third each winter, concentrating on removing the oldest stems.
Some hints to keep in mind when pruning:
* Sharpen your sheers for a clean cut. Felco or Burgon and Ball hand pruners are perfect for stems and small branches. Corona loppers are great for larger branches for anything larger than that, be sure to use a saw.
* Cut below diseased areas or dead limbs to completely remove them.
* If targeting a large and heavy limb on trees, don't cut the entire limb at once. Instead, start out at the tips of the limb and cut it off in sections to prevent the weight of the limb from damaging the tree or your saw, and to make sure it doesn't injure you when it drops to the ground.