Dormant Season Pruning

2014-02-06 17.52.29

Late February through March is the prime time for pruning most hardwood trees in Southeast Nebraska.  Avoid pruning maple, willow, poplar, birch, hackberry, Kentucky coffeetree, black walnut, honeylocust, and elm until the late summer or early fall to avoid excessive “bleeding” or sap flow.  The key when pruning is to prune in the winter while the trees are dormant, prior to new growth beginning in the spring.

Prune in the late winter when it is best for the trees.  This way, the trees can begin healing the wound early in the spring while they are putting on new growth and before they get stressed from the hot, dry summer.  It is also easier for us to prune trees when we can see all of the branches without leaves in the way.

When pruning a tree, do not prune more than one-third of the tree off in one growing season.  The tree needs to retain enough leaf area to produce enough sugar to compensate for the loss of limbs.  Also, do not cut off branches that are one-half the size of the trunk or larger.  This is too large of a wound to leave on the tree; it won’t heal correctly and can lead to decay in the tree.

When we prune a tree, there is an order to what should be removed for the overall health of a tree.

  1. Remove any dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly attached, and low-vigor branches.
  2. Thin the crown for better light penetration and more airflow
  3. Remove lower branches so it is easier to mow, park, or walk underneath the tree
  4. Remove some of the higher branches to reduce the height of a tree
  5. Do not top a tree by shearing off the top of the tree.
    • Topping a tree leads to unsightly, weakly attached limbs that have more problems than benefits
    • It can also cause a great deal of shock to the tree due to the fact that all of the leaves were removed at once and the tree can’t build more food without leaves.

    This is an example of why we should not top a tree.
    This is what happens when a tree gets topped. Photo from S. Browning, Lancaster County Extension.

Good pruning cuts are essential to the healing process of tree limbs.  Do not cut a branch off so you leave a stump on the tree.  You want to cut back to the trunk.  The best process for pruning is the 3-part pruning method.  Start the first cut a few inches out from the trunk of the tree, cut upward and only cut 1/3 of the way through the branch.  This cut is to eliminate the risk of tearing the bark down the trunk.  The second cut should be further away from the tree than the first cut and should just simply cut the branch off the tree.  The third and final cut should be up next to the trunk.  This final cut should be made outside of the branch bark ridge and the branch collar, which is where the branch is attached to the tree.  Usually you can see a ridge where these two appear on the tree.

Proper pruning cut, University of Missouri Extension
Proper pruning cut, University of Missouri Extension

If you take the time to make good pruning cuts and you prune at the right time of the year and don’t remove more than one-third of the tree in a growing season, your tree will thrive following some pruning.  Sometimes we have trees that haven’t been pruned for a while and have a great deal of pruning to be done.  With these trees, prune over a period of multiple years to ensure you don’t cut too much off in one growing season.


Care of Valentine’s Day Gifts


Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it, have you bought your loved one some flowers or maybe a houseplant to show them you love them.  Valentines’ Day is one of the biggest horticultural holidays that we have.  Personally, I like any holiday that gives anyone a reason to purchase or receive flowers.  For Valentine’s Day, many florists offer the option of either cut flowers or potted plants and houseplants.

Cut flowers are beautiful, especially roses on Valentine’s Day.  They smell so wonderful and they can really brighten a day.  Roses are a great choice for this holiday, as they are the staple for the day.  The great thing about roses is that they come in many different colors to suit each person’s unique tastes.  There are a lot of other great cut flowers to choose from for this holiday, or any day you want to tell someone you love them or you are thinking about them.  Other great cut flower choices include: carnation, daisy, snapdragon, lily, mum and many more.  Any of these would be a great choice, just pick something you or the recipient likes.  The best way to decide on flowers is to go into a shop and pick them out yourself, you can also browse a large selection online but you don’t get to “stop and smell the roses” in that case.


Care of cut flowers is important to make them last longer.

  • Purchase fresh flowers
  • Gift them soon after purchase
  • Re-cut the stems at an angle with a clean, sharp knife
    • It allows them to draw water in for lasting, full blooms
  • Remove any leaves that might fall below the water line
    • Leaves in the water line will deteriorate and cause bacteria to get into the water and eventually the flowers.
  • Do not use ice-cold water
    • Use lukewarm water for best absorption by the flowers.
  • Use a clean vase
  • Change the water daily
  • Use the flower preservative that comes with the bouquet
  • Do NOT placed in full sunlight or in drafty rooms or near the door

If you want to keep the flowers even longer, you can dry them. Begin the drying process before the flowers begin to wilt by hanging them upside down for a few weeks.  I always tie some string around the bouquet then use a clothespin to hang them on curtains.  Dried flowers do lose color in the process, but still look nice.  If the flowers are hanging where they lie flat against a wall or other object, they will dry with a flat side, so be sure to check to make sure they are away from other objects.

Photo by S. Cochran, UNL Extension in Lancaster County

For a houseplant or potted plant, there are many choices.  Orchid, Bromeliad, Kalanchoe, Gerber Daisy, Amaryllis, and Cyclamen are good choices with flowers.  You can also choose the greenery type, with little flower appearances including: philodendron, aloe, Mother-in-Law’s tongue, coleus, and ficus.  During the summer these can be placed outside to add to your landscape, but you don’t want to leave them outside during the winter, as they will not overwinter.  If you do place any houseplants outside during the summer, before you bring them inside look for or treat any pests that may have gotten on the plants while outside.  Each plant is going to have different care instructions such as light and watering instructions.  Follow the labels given in the plants for care, or if you have questions about the care of a particular plant, call your local Extension Office for these answers.