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Darrell Blackwelder: Everyone has pruning questions

Many have asked what is the most frequently asked question for horticulture agents. The answer is easy, “When is the best time to prune?”

Pruning seems to be a recurring question for most homeowners. Weather change is the spark igniting this interest, whether light trimming or heavy pruning.

The answer to when the best time to prune really depends on the type of plant and your objective. That is an over-simplified answer to a very complex question. Below are the most frequently asked questions about pruning.

Question: When is the best time to prune my boxwoods?

Answer: If you want to lightly prune them, almost any time during the year. Severe pruning is normally recommended now in mid-March.

Question: What about azaleas?

Answer: Azaleas, rhododendron and other flowering plants should be pruned just after bloom. Prune azaleas during late spring and early summer. Don’t prune after July 4 because most are setting buds for next year. Prune both camellia sasanqua and japonica in early spring after bloom.

Question: When can I prune my fruit trees?

Answer: Fruit trees are best pruned in the late spring — the later the better. Pruning stimulates growth hormones and unseasonably warm weather stimulates growth, increasing the possibility of late frost damage in the spring. So, if the trees normally bloom in April, pruning in March is advisable. The older the tree, the earlier you can prune.

Question: Do I have to prune grapes every year?

Answer: Yes, grapes need to be pruned every year to ensure growth and development. Grapes should be pruned in February and March. I have pruned them in June with no damage, however, late winter pruning is best for both muscadine and bunch type grapes.

Question: When can I prune my crape myrtle?

Answer: I have observed people pruning them year round, but to avoid winter injury, research has shown pruning in mid-March or April is best to avoid winter damage which delays bloom.

Question: Do I have to prune my crape myrtles?

Answer: No, crape myrtles will bloom without annual pruning.

Question: What about ornamental trees?

Answer: Most trees can be judiciously pruned in early spring, however, shade trees such as birch and maple bleed less if you prune them in September when leaves are still present.

Question: Don’t I need to use pruning paint or a sealer for my trees?

Answer: No, research again has shown that pruning paint is of no benefit and in some cases is a detriment.

In general, most all plants can be lightly pruned year round. Tipping back radical shoots or sporadic growth will not severely damage plants.

 Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director in Rowan County with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970, Facebook or online at www.rowanextension.com

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