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Pruning is a Spring Thing

UGA Extension Horticulture Professor Bodie Pennisi leading a pruning worksop.

The leaves are falling and the outside temperatures are becoming more comfortable to spend a couple of hours out in the yard. This could lead to the idea of getting ahead on pruning the shrubs. Just say no. Pruning at the wrong time of year can result in reduced flowering, mis-shapened plants, or plants that are more sensitive to damage by insects, diseases, or cool temperatures. Timing of pruning differs from plant to plant, but as a general rule of thumb most pruning should be done in the springtime.

 Many spring-flowering plants such as azalea, dogwood, forsythia, redbud and rhododendron set flower buds in the fall, so pruning during the fall or winter months can reduce beautiful spring flowers. Plants that typically flower during the summer form flower buds on new growth and can be pruned during the winter with no effect on their flowering. Examples of this type of plant are crape myrtle and abelia.

Ornamental plants that are not grown for their showy flowers can be pruned during the late winter, spring or summer months. Avoid pruning during the fall or early winter because it may encourage tender new growth that is not sufficiently hardened to resist the winter cold. Some shade and flowering trees tend to bleed or excrete large amounts of sap from pruning wounds. Among these trees are maple, birch, dogwood, beech, elm, willow, flowering plum and flowering cherry. Sap excreted from the tree is not harmful, but it is unsightly. To minimize bleeding, prune these trees after the leaves have matured. Leaves use plant sap when they expand, and the tree excretes less sap from the wound.

Sometimes the shrubbery can get out of hand covering windows and may need to be severely pruned (called renewal pruning). Renewal pruning means cutting the plants back 6 to 12 inches above ground level. In this situation, timing is more important than technique. The best time to prune severely is when spring growth begins — mid-March in north Georgia and mid-February in south Georgia. Pruning in late fall or mid-winter may encourage new growth that can be injured by cold. Once the new shoots are 6 to 12 inches long, prune the tips to encourage lateral branching and a more compact shrub. Most broadleaf shrubs (such as azaleas, camellias, ligustrum, abelia, nandina, cleyera and crape myrtle) respond well to renewal pruning. Boxwoods, however, recover slowly and may even die when severely pruned.

For more information about pruning schedules and techniques contact the Evans County Extension Office at 912-739-1292.