Thursday, January 2, 2014

DIY: Winter Pruning In The Garden

Get bundled up, get the kids outside and try pruning your garden.

Take a day and connect with nature -disconnect from the TV, computer, couch or work and get outside in the winter garden.  Even if the winds are blowing, if you dress warm enough and put clothes on that you don't mind getting dirty, you'll be glad you got outside and in the garden and connected -not with your peeps online but your plants outside.  I know, because I did it today.

It was cold out with raging winds, requiring a hat, gloves and warm coat, but I got out and gardened.  I almost shed a few tears cleaning up plants that appeared to have died from recent freezing single digit temperatures; my dog noticed my sadness and came over to check on me.  Plants I've had for years in the high desert of Southern California that survived winter low temps of 11 degrees; plants that I dug up from my garden when I sold my house last spring carefully planting them into containers; plants that I moved three times, at great expense, to finally be with me in my new life in the Sierra Mountains region surviving temps in the 20's on a daily basis; seemed to have died out once we hit ten days of single digit temps. 

I had left the dangling plants for dead in those containers, so I could at least view them and their tattered remains in memory of their brighter, beaming days.  But today, I pruned and cleaned them up, in a funeral goodbye. And it was indeed sad as these were my "friends" for seasons in a place I was new to and did not know many people. I know however, that Spring will surprise me with life for an unknown amount of these plants.  And I will not know until then...

My own connection to gardens goes back many years.  Through my teens and twenties, I did garden design, pruning, clean up, and other services for garden owners in the Seattle area.  I held jobs in the summers working for tree pruning companies or landscape nurseries and learned great tips from the various "master gardeners" I worked under.

Eventually, I built up a client list in the Seattle area that included Mercer Island, various Seattle neighborhoods, and areas of the East Side. And through practice, I became quite good at mastering pruning of trees and shrubs.

Winter is the best season for pruning plants, shrubs and trees. The lack of leaves on many wintered plants allows you to see the lines of the plant and quickly determine it's structure as far as where to cut and improve it's growth patterns. The growth in spring will cover up any mistakes you might make, unless you do something pretty severe. Try to avoid that. Either case, you can prune your shrubs and trees yourself following the key pointers listed here.

Exceptions to Consider When Pruning in Winter:

1.)  If you have trees with heavy sap, minimize the stress on these sap-bleeding trees and wait to prune until after their leaves have fully developed.

2.)  For early-spring blooming shrubs, including Lilac, Forsythia, Rhododendron, and Hydrangeas, these plants bear flowers on wood formed the previous year. Thus with thier coming spring blooms, wait until they're finished blooming until late spring or early summer; unless you don't mind having a smaller display of blooms.

Tips for Your Pruning Cutting Tools:
  • Use sharp and proper cutting tools: tree and shrub pruners, pole pruners and saws.
  • Sterilize your tools with alcohol and spray with W-2 oil when needed.  

Key Pruning Tips to Follow:
  • First find and cut off all dead or injured wood.‬   
  • Work carefully and don't hack: with the exception of topiary or formed hedges, don't hack your trees and shrubs into boxed shapes that promote unhealthy growth. 
  • Remember to make your cuts after the point of a bloom or branch out. And avoid cutting against the trunk.  
  • For large branches, make a cut into the under side of the branch, then cut from the top. This reduces rips and tears in the bark that can introduce disease into the main trunk of the tree.
  • Finely cut away branches that are growing too close or remove one that's growing into the other.
  • Remove branches that are crossing another or growing backwards in direction.
  • Cut suckers -the twigs growing up from the ground or base of the plant.
  • For taller trees, the first layer of structured branches should be six feet above ground.
  • If you're cutting back height, give a natural rounded curve to the overall structure while cutting.
  • Trim away branches that are growing directly straight up.  
  • Step back, away and walk around the plant you're cutting to ensure you're making the right cuts.
  • Remember, to open up the structure and create clean lines on more complex shrubs.
  • Step back and get a good view of the overall shape -don't remove too much and don't tip ends: cut from within.

So give it a shot, take a few hours and get outside in the garden.  You'll be glad you did.

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