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February in the garden: It’s time to prune before new growth emerges

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

February is the ideal time to cut back ornamental grasses and liriope before new growth begins to emerge. For large pampas grass mounds, a hedge cutter or a chain saw does the job efficiently.

Prune summer-flowering shrubs such as beautyberry, butterfly bush, Clethra, vitex and summer-blooming spireas in late winter to encourage lots of new growth and heavy flowering.

Do not prune back hydrangeas, azaleas or other spring-blooming shrubs or you will loose this year’s blooms. Camellias can be pruned back after they have completed their blooming cycle.

Make your pruning cuts just above the thickened, rough area on the stem. This is the spot that marks where one year’s growth ended and the next year’s growth began. Cut just above these areas to force three to four dormant buds into growth.

Gardenias require little pruning; however, if the plant is much too large for the landscape, prune back just before growth starts in the spring. When large plants are pruned heavily, frequent watering will stimulate new growth and flower production.

Valentine’s Day is the traditional time to prune ever-blooming roses. Choose an outward facing bud to make the rose grow outward and allow more light and air into its center. Cut one-quarter inch above the bud at a 45-degree angle, slanted parallel with the bud. Cut back all healthy canes to maintain the proportions of the rose. Carefully prune to establish a well-rounded and open form. Once-bloomers, which bloom only in the spring such as Lady Banks, should not be pruned until after they finish flowering.

Now is the best time to lightly prune crape myrtles. Remove crossing branches and inward growth and cut off seedpods. Never hack back into the large branches. This practice is known as topping and ruins the natural shape of crape myrtles and promotes insect and disease problems. If your crape myrtle is too large for the location where it is planted, consider moving it and replacing it with a smaller variety.

Always prune dead, diseased, dying or damaged limbs from a tree immediately. The optimum time to prune deciduous hardwood trees occurs just prior to bud break in the early spring. There are two types of pruning cuts for trees: thinning out removes twigs, branches or limbs at the point of origin and does not stimulate vegetative growth; and heading back will stimulate new growth. Do not apply wound dressing to open wounds; the tree will heal itself. Always cut at the collar and do not allow the cut to tear down in the good wood.

Nandinas and mahonias are evergreens that can be pruned in late winter when the berries fall off or are eaten by the birds. If plants have been neglected for several years and allowed to grow leggy, prune away the tallest and oldest stems (with oldest bark). This pruning will encourage new growth to appear and the plant will fill in at the base.

Pyracantha must be pruned and trained to conform to its designed landscape function. It is safest to prune pyracantha just as the plant comes into bloom, so you avoid cutting away flowering and fruited wood. As always keep your pruning tools sharp and clean.

“With plants, persuasion is better than force.” Elsa Bakalar.