New Year Returns and Partners with Pruning

01/15/2015 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Class Notes, Plant Care, Pruning

As usual, as we welcome in another new year we kick off another pruning season. Properly pruned trees and shrubs are critically important to the good health of any landscape. Now’s the time to prune back summer blooming shrubs like butterfly bush, Russian sage, and rose of Sharon; also include fruiting trees, berry bushes, and grapes. While all of these plants enjoy nice winter cuts, be sure to avoid forsythias and other spring bloomers that already have buds beginning to form.

Our objective is to complete pruning by the end of February. But, while temps are low, there’s no need to be uncomfortably cold spending a long day outdoors pruning everything that needs cutting. Within the next few weeks there will be bright days when we can prune back one tree or bush at a time.

Don’t worry about pruning mistakes; you can’t make any of lasting consequence. Plants will grow their way out of any pruning blunder. Fertilize after this year’s pruning projects and new spring growth will mask the scars left by misguided pruners. So fear not, get out there and start cutting your way across the landscape!

Pruning GrapesFirst, remove stakes and guy wires installed with trees planted a year ago. 

Next, prune out dead or damaged branches. Dead wood not only looks ugly, but it attracts insects, diseases, and wood-pecking birds. Thin out branches on trees with histories of disease or mildew. Reducing the mass of branches will improve air circulation and penetration of sunlight, which in turn will reduce the incidence of disease. Plums, cherries, peaches, willows, and poplars, are prone to leaf problems and really benefit from this pruning.

Heading and thinning are the two techniques for pruning the remaining branches on trees and shrubs. Heading is cutting a branch back to a healthy bud that is pointing in the direction you want the plant to grow. This method is used mainly on evergreen shrubs, hedges, and later in the season on roses.

Thinning is completely removing a shoot or branch to ground level, to the trunk, or to another main branch. No prominent stub should remain. This is usually the best method for pruning trees.

“Ducks” are not welcome in the garden! You should not have to worry about hitting your head on a low hanging tree branch on your property. Feel free to prune trees to above head height. I have found that smaller trees may take several years before they finally reach the height I like, but by patiently cutting a few branches each year I soon have trees with the clearances I want.

All season spray oil bonideWhen pruning is complete spray trees and shrubs with an application of ‘All Season Spray Oil’. It is highly effective at killing insects and their eggs, yet safe for plants and our environment. This is the least expensive bug killer of the season. A bottle is $19.99 and enough for the average home’s landscape. All Season Oil is especially important for young trees or trees that had problems last year with insects or disease. It is a must on fruit trees if you want a decent crop this coming season.

I don’t have space here for how-to sketches showing these proper cuts but my free handout, “Pruning Basics”, has photos that are really helpful. Just ask for it the next time you visit the garden center.

YouTube subscribers have commented on the videos of some of my personal pruning projects. “How to Prune Russian Sage” and a second, entitled “A Pruner’s Guide to Butterfly Bushes”, were well received and much appreciated. The videos are at Follow the garden conversation by ‘Subscribing’ to the page and you will be notified when new gardening information is on site. Feel free to share this page of helpful gardening tips with your fellow gardeners.

Free Garden Class – “Growing Plants Indoors, Where Inspiration Begins” Growing tropical plants indoors presents challenges unique to an arid climate like ours. Success is in the soil, the food, and choosing the right plants. (Fox Farms products will be featured.) After this class you’ll be prepared to grow and care for healthy plants. Also, each student will receive a money-saving coupon towards containers in Watters’ 2015 pottery collection.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or Facebook page WattersGardenCenter .

2 Replies to “New Year Returns and Partners with Pruning”

  1. Ken Lain – Please == our roses are already budding out. Can we trim them now or do we need to wait until March as you suggest?

    1. Our roses are full of new buds – I have the same question – is it ok to prune them now?

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