Cabin Fever Brings Us Out
Despite the bitter cold and soggy snow that blanketed Washington DC this winter, March has arrived. We know spring is coming because if you look closely enough, you will see the tender leaf tips of bulbs, especially daffodils, just emerging. Right now, we are working quickly in gardens to take advantage of the great opportunity to prune in the last moments of winter. Many plants and trees should or MUST be pruned at this time of year while the temperatures are consistently below 50 degrees fahrenheit. And besides, who can sit inside any longer?
What to prune now
If a woody plant or tree will bloom from stems that grow this year, then winter is the time to prune them. Mostly, these are plants that will bloom in summer and fall. Doing so now is much easier on the plant. Since they are not putting energy into growing, cuts heal more quickly and there is much less risk of spreading any disease. On the other hand, if blooms grow from older stems, stems that grew last year or earlier, then wait till after they bloom to prune them. Many of these are spring bloomers.
To keep it simple, here is a short list to focus on:
Hydrangea paniculata (PeeGees) and arboresescens (Annabelles)
Care should be taken with Hydrangeas to be sure they are not Oakleaf or Hydrangea macrphylla. They bloom on old wood and if you prune them now, you will remove flowerbuds. These can wait till later in the season.
One more easy task to do now is to cut back liriope and other ornamental grasses. By now, they can look so shabby it’s difficult to bare. Cutting them back gives new shoots an opportunity to absorb light and relieves the plants from trying to sustain the old blades at the same time they need to feed new ones. It won’t take long before the new growth will cover the stubble, which in any case is still better to look at than the tired, brown salt suffering stems.
It’s always ok to prune off damaged or week branches. It’s not always easy to see if a branch that’s dormant is still vital, but looking very closely can reveal life so take a minute to inspect. Finding the first signs of life in the garden is a genuine thrill.