Prune garden plants at ideal time for each
Exceptionally low temperatures this winter caused more cold damage than our typical, milder winters. But try not to panic and prune as soon as you see damage.
It is best to let the plant heal and recover what healthy tissue it still has, and then prune the dead parts a little later.
Pruning shorty after a freeze can damage recovering tissue or cause you to cut off potentially healthy tissue without realizing it. This can weaken the plant or introduce a secondary fungus or disease.
Pruning also promotes growth, which is a wonderful thing to happen in the growing season. But you do not want to encourage your plants to flush out with new growth until the threat of frost has passed. Timing of the last frost varies from late February on the Coast to late March or early April in north Mississippi.
Pruning at the correct time helps encourage the plant to leaf out and put all of its energy into new, healthy growth. It is also easier to see the true branch shape of a tree or shrub when it is dormant. This helps you choose which branches to prune or remove and how much shaping is needed.
A final reason to not remove freeze damage while the plant is still dormant is that the dead foliage can help insulate the plant from further damage should we have another cold snap. This protection is especially helpful for fleshy plants such as banana, ginger and philodendron.
The best way to know when to prune a flowering shrub or tree is to ask the question: “When does it flower?”
Plants that flower on “new wood” -- meaning flowers form on the new growth that flushes out in the spring -- are best pruned from late winter to early spring. Pruning too late into spring could cause you to nip off buds that have already been set. Examples include roses, Butterfly Bush and Panicle Hydrangeas.
Plants that flower on “old wood” -- meaning flowers bloom on growth from the previous year -- should be pruned after they have bloomed. Pruning too late in the fall or too early in the spring will cut off those buds that form on the last year’s growth. Examples include azaleas, mophead hydrangeas and spirea.
Prune evergreen shrubs and trees as well as shade trees in late winter to early spring while they are dormant and right before the new growing season begins. Examples of this include holly, boxwood, oak and maple.
Prune flowering trees right after they flower. Examples include magnolia, redbud and crabapple.
Once the threat of frost has passed and it is safe to prune, there are several techniques to remember.
Always use clean, sharp pruning tools. If a plant shows signs of fungus, insects or disease, disinfect your clippers before moving to the next plant to prevent the spread of disease. Bag up these clippings to throw away instead of composting them.
Always prune a branch right above a leaf node to prevent die back. Collect all clippings from under pruned plants to ensure proper air circulation and remove potential disease.
Cut any vertical stems or branches at an angle so water does not accumulate on the cut area and cause rotting. And when in doubt, always prune a flowering plant shortly after it has finished blooming. This is your safest bet to preserve future blooms.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Bond is a Southern Gardening guest columnist and owner of Pine Hills Floral in Pass Christian.]