In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
These renewal cuts on an arrowwood viburnum will force attractive new growth
It certainly seems that winter's back is broken. Of course, the cold weather may not be gone, but the snow is and the air has a scent of spring. It's too early to get into the garden, but this is the perfect time to take half an hour each day and do some pruning.
With everything still dormant, it's possible to see the forms of trees and shrubs. Also with spring coming on soon, wounds made from pruning will begin to heal fairly quickly.
So, let's get started. The very first step, if you didn't take care of it last fall, is to sharpen your pruners and loppers. It takes a little time to do, especially when you're antsy to get outside, but sharp tools make the job much easier and safer. If your tools are dull, the tendency is to push harder. And pushing harder can mean slipping and injury. So, pull out your newspaper in the evening and set up a sharpening station.
Once your pruners are sharp, you can get started. Remember that shrubs that flower early in spring like serviceberry, lilac, forsythia and early spirea already have their flower buds in place, so pruning them at this time of year means you will cut off the blossoms. Wait on these until after they bloom.
Summer blooming shrubs such as spirea, potentilla and some hydrangeas will produce flower buds when they start growing in a month, so you can prune them for shape right now. Shrubs that are grown for their foliage such alpine currant, dogwood, purple-leaf sand cherry, barberry, ninebark and burning bush can be pruned now because we are not really concerned about the flowers.
My favorite type of pruning is renewal pruning. This is done to rejuvenate shrubs that have many stems coming from ground level. It won't work with plants like burning bush and barberry that have only one stem, but dogwoods, spireas and most viburnums benefit from renewal pruning.
The method is easy - you simply cut one-fourth to one-third of the oldest, largest stems back as close to the ground as you can get. This stimulates new shoots from the crown and makes the plant dense and attractive. It also keeps some of the larger shrubs such as dogwood at a more manageable size. This is generally done only when the plant is dormant, so this is the perfect time.
Another pruning task that needs to be done right now is to cut back ornamental grasses. These need to be cut back early so the new shoots don't get nipped. I tie mine in tight bundles and use hedge shears, but you can use anything that works. For the larger grasses, I know some gardeners actually use a chain saw. It really helps to tie them up first.
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