WICHE: Put late winter pruning on your to-do list

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Now is a good time to prune some of your bushes, shrubs and trees. Here's advice about that.

By Jeneen Wiche

In a fit of gratitude, I made a list of the things I loved about my life the other day. I managed eight solid things. None was frivolous, and one prompted the whole exercise: I love warm February days.

This beautiful February day set into motion a very productive weekend. It felt so good to get some good-old-fashioned garden clean up done with my husband by my side and the sheep grazing freely about. It makes you feel optimistic about the rest of your life.

Andy tackled the orchard; and I managed to clear out all the old blackberry canes before tackling a few perennial beds together. There is still more to be done, but the momentum has begun. So, as you search for your late-winter motivation to get moving in the garden, consider these chores.

Late winter is a good time to prune because the tree or woody ornamental is essentially dormant. Late February is ideal because this is the point in the season when many plants are close to coming out of dormancy. Their juices are beginning to flow, and a particular enzyme in some species allows for the plant to heal-over pruning wounds a little more efficiently.

Not to mention the fact that insects are emerging from the places where they sought winter protection (in our dogwoods, white pines, fringe trees, orchards or the like) instead of looking for easy entries into trees with fresh cuts. Do you get the logic?

Also our harsh winter weather should be behind us, but Mother Nature is not known for her obedience. With milder temperatures around the corner and the fact that trees are still dormant, pruning conditions are perfect.

If you set to the task of pruning any of your woody ornamentals in the next several weeks, make sure that you prune only those that bloom in the summer and fall. If you prune spring bloomers, such as lilacs, you will remove the buds that have already set on the plant.

You want to prune spring bloomers right after they have finished blooming. Prune out dead wood of all plant material, regardless. Insects and disease love dead wood, and you open your tree or ornamental up to infestation if you don’t remove it.

Pruning helps trees stay healthy by removing any dead or diseased wood, and by thinning out branches you increase the amount of air circulation and light that filters through the tree.

Aesthetically, pruning allows us to sculpt our trees to the desired shape and to maintain their size.

Prune out branches that grow inward or those that are rubbing against other branches. Limbs that get in the way of riding lawn mowers as you mow around the tree should be removed because if you damage these limbs during mowing it will open the tree up to disease.

“Limbing-up” trees as they grow helps the tree maintain a vase shape and is a relatively easy chore if you keep up on it every other year or so.

When making a pruning cut, arborists recommend that you leave the branch collar, because this collar actually forms a protective barrier against insects and disease. The branch collar is the small raised area on the trunk of the tree from which each branch emerges. These collars are obvious, especially after a tree has healed.

Look to other professionally pruned trees for what this healing effect looks like. You will see a circular, raised and rounded type of scar that neatly forms around where a branch has been removed.

For larger limbs that need to be removed with a hand saw or chainsaw, here is an important tip:

When you make your first cut, do so from the underside and only cut about halfway through the limb.

Make your second cut about an inch out from there, leaving about 8 inches of the limb. Now that the majority of the limb is removed, you can safely make your final cut up to the branch collar.

If you make only one cut, you risk the limb falling on you or the bark ripping down the trunk from the underside of the cut. This has happened to most of us at least once, and, again, it opens the tree up to insects and disease.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.