The frantic pace of the holidays has given way to the much calmer contemplation of mid-winter, making it a great time to settle in, plan for and nurture some spring gardening projects. Today’s snowy weather certainly encourages introspection. Preferably indoors, under a pile of blankets, with a sleepy cat in your lap and a stack of gardening magazines and seed catalogs on the coffee table.
But if you’re itching to do some more active gardening this time of year, mid-January into February is an excellent time to do a bit of pruning, especially when we get that odd mild day or two.
So where to begin? Let’s start with your tools. After a busy growing season, your pruners and loppers may have lost their edge. It’s a good idea to clean them, too. Some oxidized detergent dissolved in warm water is pretty effective at loosening old dirt and stubborn sap. Once your tools are cleaned, get them sharpened. Many full-service hardware stores can help you out. And remember to size the blade appropriately for the job at hand. Pruning shears are good for branches smaller than forefinger. If the branches are larger, time to break out the loppers or pruning saw.
Now that you’ve got clean, sharp pruning implements, what plants should you tackle? Consider fruit trees. Specimens that are old enough to bear fruit require several things for good production. One of the most important is ensuring that plenty of sunlight reaches as much leaf surface as possible. Pruning can help with this and it is very easy to see the structure of your trees at this time of year. As you prune, aim for a gentle pyramidal shape. Most plants do this naturally as they grow. You’ll also want to remove any branches that have been damaged by storms or are rubbing against each other. Obvious water sprouts can be taken out as well. These are the whippy, vertically growing branches. And while you have those shears handy, remove any suckers coming from the roots that you can get at through the snow.
Check the branches of plum and cherry trees for Black Knot cankers. This fungus is a dark, bumpy growth on the stems. Prune out any of these cankers along with the 8-12 inches of growth below it. Be sure to disinfect your pruning tools by dipping the blades in rubbing alcohol or a mild bleach solution between cuts. You can also spray the blades with Lysol. It’s very important to do this between each and every cut to prevent spreading the infection to healthy parts of the tree.
As far as ornamental trees and shrubs are concerned, remember these few rules. If the plants flowers before early June, prune it right after flowering. Crabapple, lilac and magnolia are a few of the plants in this group. Trees and shrubs that flower later, like potentilla, spirea and weigela, can be pruned or shaped in late winter or early spring. Most shade trees are best pruned in late winter. Oaks are an important member of this group and should be pruned between November 1st and March 1st. Hold off on roses and hydrangea until after bud break. And unless there are broken branches, please leave your evergreens alone until late June.
It looks like we may get enough snow today to provide winter insulation for the near future, but this bonus insulation can allow for rodent damage. Rabbits, mice and voles love young tree bark and can girdle a small tree overnight. If you see evidence of rabbits in your yard, consider wrapping the trunks of your young trees with paper tree wrap. But any signs of damage requires breaking out the big guns with repellents. There are several types, from predator urine products to granular forms. Stop into the Garden Center and we’ll help you navigate the choices.
Take advantage of any nice, sunny days that we might see later this month to do a little garden walk-about. The buds might be fattening up with the promise of spring. Most of the winter berries still have lovely color. While you are saying hello to your plants, you can check for winter breakage, animal injury and potential insect problems. Don’t let anyone tell you different. A gardener’s work is never done.