In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Holly is one of the shrubs I avoid pruning this time of year. Our local birds rely on the berries to get them through the winter months.

Pruning in Winter

I love strolling through the garden on a sunny winter day, pruning tools in hand. I know you've heard the cautions about winter pruning and how it can encourage off-season growth vulnerable to frost damage, but if you're selective about which trees and shrubs you prune, winter pruning can result in attractive, healthy spring growth.

Over time plants can become unruly, oversized, and full of dead wood. Some well-placed pruning cuts can renew a plant, making it more attractive, opening it up to better air circulation, and encouraging healthy new growth. When trees and shrubs have bare branches, it's easy to spot problems or potential problems and nip them in the bud. I look for dead wood and misplaced branches and remove them completely. I also look at the overall appearance of the plant and make whatever cuts are necessary to improve its basic structure.

I don't do any major overhauls at this time of the year, but a snip here and a cut there can make a world of difference when new growth appears in the spring. I think pruning is a little like staying ahead of the weeds. If you take care of the small problems they won't have a chance to grow into major problems.

What to Prune -- and What to Avoid Pruning
Trees and shrubs that bloom in summer and fall generally develop flowers on the current season's growth. These can be pruned now, before the first flush of spring growth develops. Roses and blueberries fall into this category. Plants that bloom in the spring or winter, such as azaleas, lilacs, and forsythia, should be pruned immediately after blooming to give them a full growing season to produce new flowering shoots. If you prune them in the winter, you'll remove the developing flower buds and sacrifice flowering in the coming months. Avoid pruning the spring bloomers now and your plants will be just fine.

The Kindest Cuts
Making pruning cuts may seem tricky, but it's really quite simple. Make the cut 1/4 inch above a bud that's facing to the outside of the shrub, cutting downward at a 45 degree angle so water runs off the cut. By directing the new growth outwards, you'll keep the center of the shrub open to good air circulation and better sunlight penetration, which will help deter insect and disease problems.

It takes regular pruning to keep shrubs well groomed, but the effort pays off in improved health and optimal performance.


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