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A Winter-into-Spring Garden Checklist: Clean and Prune Before It’s Time to Plant!

Gardens Covered With A Green Tarp

Late winter is the best time to get a jump on spring gardens. Gardeners may have winterized their beds by covering the soil surface with a layer of compost or mulch to regulate soil temperatures and suppress early spring weeds. They may have covered or wrapped sensitive or newly-planted perennials and shrubs with frost cloth. The warm, sunny days we often experience in late winter are an ideal time to get your garden ready for spring. One of the most important – and often confusing – late-winter tasks is pruning. Pruning of trees and shrubs is done to control the shape and size of the plant, make the garden safe by removing low-hanging limbs that might scratch passing cars or passers-by, and promote more abundant foliage and flowering in the growing season. Let’s look at the basics of good pruning.

TIMING: Early spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia and flowering quince should be pruned after the first flush of flowering; any earlier and you’ll remove buds and blooms and diminish the lovely floral display in early spring. Late spring and summer-flowering shrubs like abelia can have their heaviest pruning after the last freeze but before buds develop. In Texas, Valentine’s Day is a traditional time to “show plants the love” and give them a good shaping-up. Whenever you do this first pruning of the year, it should be a major pruning – the heaviest pruning of the year. A second, light pruning may be called for in the heat of summer when plants go into a dormant cycle; this pruning can help tidy up spent flowers, control the shape of the plant, and give it energy to bloom again in the milder temperatures of the fall.

TECHNIQUE: The actual cuts that are made in a good pruning can vary from plant to plant, and it’s important to prune properly so that the plant isn’t damaged or exposed to disease. There are excellent garden manuals and online tutorials that can visually step you through the process; here are some basics to keep in mind:

1. Use the right tool. There are hand-help pruners, pruning shears, loppers and saws for every size job; using the right tool will make pruning easier for the gardener and result in a cleaner cut. Nurseries and garden centers will carry a variety of pruning tools and can help you choose the right tool for the job.

2. Remember the goals of pruning: to remove diseased or dead branches; to remove touching or  crossing branches which may rub together and damage the wood; to open up the center of the plant and promote good air circulation; and to manage the plant for an attractive size and shape.

3. For larger trees or costly accent trees like Japanese maples, it’s best to work with a professional arborist for best results.

Late winter is also time to get flower beds and vegetable gardens ready for those first spring days when the soil temperature begins to rise and plants wake up from their winter sleep. This is a great time to incorporate compost and soil in flower beds and vegetable gardens, clean out and refill containers in preparation for planting…then get out those seed catalogs and wish lists…soon it will be spring!

Image Source: Trong Nguyen / Shutterstock

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