Now is the time to prune

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By Susan Stone

The weather is finally starting to break and our landscapes have taken the winter rather hard. It’s time to cut back overgrowth and cold damage. As I drive around the county, it seems that our palms have suffered the worst. February is the typical month for cutting roses, crepe myrtles, grasses and palms.

Susan Stone
Susan Stone

Your roses, no matter the variety, will thank you for a hard pruning. All shrub varieties such as knockouts and grandifloras can be pruned down to 12” above the crown. Climbing roses will benefit from pruning them by half. A monthly dose of organic fertilizer applied from April to September will go a long way to help your roses avoid problems throughout the season. You can help protect your roses from deer by planting society garlic and other smelly and fragrant plants nearby.

The pruning of crepe myrtles has been at the center of controversy among gardeners for generations. To prune or not to prune is the question. Many who prune them into arthritic knuckles are accused of crepe murder! The truth is that crepe myrtles bloom on new growth. If you have an older specimen that isn’t blooming, it’s time to cut it back. Hard pruning will help to keep it the “right size” for your landscape.

All grasses, including muhly, pampas and cord grass can be sheared to 12 to 24 inches. Liriope and mondo grass can be cut to inches above the ground. Many of the tender grasses such as fountain grass may not come back after such a cold winter. Muhly grass is considered a semi-tender grass. Those beautiful soft pink plumes have become very popular in Southern landscapes, but will only be viable for three to five years before they run out of steam and need to be replaced.

Those poor palms! Most of them are going to be just fine, but they need to be cut back if they are going to look good this season. Whatever is brown will never turn green again, so cut away. You may need a professional to climb and prune the tall ones. When it comes to prevention, most palms are on their own due to their size, but sago palms can be spared by protecting their hearts with an old towel or wadded up sheet.

As for the shrubbery, leave the azaleas alone until they have finished blooming. You will have until the first of July to get to them. After that they will start setting their buds for the following spring. Varieties such as loropetalum, ligustrum, viburnum, pineapple guava, hollies and boxwoods, go ahead and prune away. This is a good time of year to do some shaping and re-sizing. Many of our landscape plants need to be rejuvenated from time to time. Be brave, you really can’t hurt them. If they’re really big and need to be half their size, use a pruning saw. I recommend hand pruning. It takes a little longer, but doesn’t “chew” the plant. Clean cuts will keep your plants healthier. And speaking of clean, make sure your tools are sharp and clean as well. You do not want to spread fungus or disease from plant to plant. If you suspect a problem, spray or wipe down your tools with a weak bleach solution.  The exceptions to hand pruning would be boxwoods, privets, yaupon holly and other tiny leafed shrubs. They thrive on being sheared.

As an organic gardener myself, I am concerned about the amount of chemicals we use in our landscapes. We live in a very environmentally sensitive area, not to mention the effects of these chemicals on our own heath. The next time you are tempted to reach a jug of Round-up, try this recipe instead. You will need 1 gallon white vinegar, 1 cup pickling salt and 1 cup cheap dish soap. Mix together in a pump sprayer (make sure you dissolve the salt. Warning: Do not spray this on anything you don’t want to kill!

Happy Gardening!

Susan Stone is a Garden Guru and Manager for Outdoor Architecture. You can contact Susan via email at susan@outdoorarchitecture.com.