Warm winter means much pruning
Our mild winter was wonderful. Old Jack Frost didn’t zap me once. But because of that, I have much pruning to do that nature used to do for me in colder winters. So pruning is one of my major chores at the moment. What is the best time to prune? Okay, it’s a bit late for pruning roses, but my theory is better late than never. The only time not to prune is just before a plant is going to bloom. On plants that bloom on new growth, such as cassias and crepe myrtle, you can prune up until two or three months before you expect bloom. Those that bloom on old growth, such as azaleas, are best pruned shortly after the current year’s bloom. Any later and you will be cutting off the next year’s buds.In Florida, we have to prune constantly. If I didn’t, we’d never be able to get out the door. I carry scissors in my apron or pocket every time I go out and prune off dead flowers or leaves or any growth that reaches across the path. I always have loppers handy and a saw, if necessary. Pruning can be scary at first. Just remember that it is your plant and your property and you may prune as you see fit. Keep in mind the natural shape of the plants and prune it accordingly. It hurts me to see azaleas sheared to clumps. For the most part, power shearing is the last resort. If you must do it or have it done, be sure that the sides slope from a narrower top to a wider bottom or else the top will shade out the lower limbs and soon they will die. You see a lot of top-only sheared plants around here. Pruning will make a shrub or plant bushier and more compact, and pruning off the dead flowers, unless you’re saving seed, will result in more flowers and neater gardens. The best time to prune is when you see the need, have time and the clippers are handy. It’s always a good time to remove dead, broken or diseased branches. You’ll find that thin dead stems will often snap right off by hand. Remove water sprouts, little green stems along the branches, unless one is needed to become a main branch and remove spindly, crowding or crossing growth. For fruit, cut back on height so you can reach it. Shade trees seldom need topping, but flowering trees are best topped and kept fairly low. If you want to make sure you are doing the best for each plant, get a book on pruning for reference or Google as you go. Removing the pruned material can be a problem. Ideally, we should compost all but the diseased matter. If you put it out for waste collection, follow the rules and do unto others. Don’t try to cut anything that is too big or too high. Professional tree trimmers are much easier to pay than medical bills.
Today’s pick is bougainvillea because it’s probably the most difficult to prune with all its thorns. Kathy Nelson, editor of Florida Gardening Magazine, says she loves the bush but wishes it came with someone to prune it. I have one I started from a cutting and keep in a large pot. I prune it back after every flush of bloom. These evergreen shrubs or vines need sun, are often zapped by frost but seldom killed, and were beautiful all winter. If you put clippings of this out for waste pick-up, put a note on the bundle saying “Beware! Thorny!”
Now’s the time to tell you that if you go to St. Petersburg and see glorious trees of purple flowers, they are Jacarandas. I had to have one but must tell you that they don’t do nearly as well on this side of the bay because it is so often colder here. They need full sun. I topped mine and it is now best seen if you fly over. When I see lavender petals on the ground, I remember to look way up and see where it is fighting with oaks for sunshine. Still, it lifts my heart when it blooms.
?Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, author and freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.