Do prune this…Don’t prune that

2013-05-09 10.12.37

Spring will be here before we know it. With all the warm weather lately, it is hard to remember that spring has not already sprung in Southeast Nebraska. But, with the warmer weather, there are a few things we can do in our landscapes and a few things we should avoid.

Don’t prune spring blooming shrubs this time of the year. Plants such as lilac, forsythia, spring blooming spirea, and some hydrangeas produce flowers in the fall of the previous year to bloom early in the spring. If you prune these plants now, you will cut of the flower buds and not have those flowers to enjoy this spring. So avoid pruning those shrubs in the spring. Spring blooming shrubs should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming in the spring. This will allow for the best growth of the plant and for best flowering each year.

Forsythia-Richard Elzey, Flickr

Forsythia Flickr image courtesy of Richard Elzey per CC license

Prune trees this time of the year. February and March are the best months of the year to prune deciduous and fruit trees. It is best to prune these trees during the winter months because it doesn’t affect fruiting that occurs in the spring and it allows the tree to seal up the wound quickly in the spring when growth resumes. It is also easier to see areas that need to be pruned in the winter months. You can see where branches are crossing or rubbing and where the branches are too dense. In addition, pruning in the late winter helps reduce the transmission of different diseases that aren’t active. However, it is best to avoid pruning maple, willow, poplar, birch, hackberry, Kentucky coffeetree, black walnut, honeylocust, and elm due to the high sap flow they have in the spring. Freshly cut wounds this time of year will cause the tree to “bleed” or have excessive sap flow out of the wounds. They are best pruned in the late summer to early fall to avoid sap flow.

Don’t uncover perennials yet. It is still winter, for a few more weeks. Many of our perennials are getting confused with the weather lately and some are starting to green up already. Tulips, Iris, and peonies are starting to emerge and crocus are blooming already. However, if you pull the winter mulch back from these plants or remove the plant material that was left on the plants through the winter, you will be exposing the plant to cold temperatures and removing its protection. The plant will have better survival and less winterkill if you leave them covered through the winter months.

Plan your gardens for the spring. Late winter is a great time to plan what you will plant in your vegetable gardens so you can format your plan to know what you have space for and to ensure that you move your crops around from year to year. This will also help you decide what seeds to start indoors. Mid-February through March is a good time to start the seeds of your chosen warm season crops indoors. Make sure that you have them in a warm location with 14-16 hours of light on them everyday.

crabgrass, Joseph Berger, Bugwood

Crabgrass photo is courtesy of Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org

Don’t use pre-emergent herbicides for crabgrass yet. The soil temperatures have been at an average of 40-45 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 7 days. Even as warm as it has been, crabgrass has not yet begun to germinate. If the temperatures continue at this pace, it will probably germinate early, but we still have a couple of weeks before we need to get the pre-emergent herbicides on. Remember, crabgrass germinates at 55-60 degree soil temperatures, so we still have a bit of warming up to do.

Gardening Tools

garden-tools-blog

January and February are great months to start thinking about gardening again, but don’t get too excited, there is plenty of winter left before we can go out and start cleaning up our gardens. However, we can start thinking about what we can do in our gardens this year and inventory garden tools to determine replacement and new pieces.

Garden Gloves are essential for any gardener. They help keep your hands from getting torn up when pruning roses or other plants with thorns. Garden gloves also keep you from getting dirt caked onto your hands. In my case, my gloves give the pruners something else to hit before cutting my finger, which is why there is a hole in my current pair. I have a very nice pair that are breathable and have a nitrile covering over the palm and fingers to keep my hands protected when working in the garden. I have to have a pair that fits tightly to my hand and that breathes or I will not wear them and then I will have very rough, callused hands with many scratches and wounds. My garden gloves are a must in my garden bag.

gardening-gloves

Every gardener needs a good selection of pruners. Hand pruners work best for pruning small branches on many of our shrubs and to cut back herbaceous perennials. Branches cut with hand pruners should be less than ½ inch or less in width. They also work well for deadheading during the summer months. Bypass pruners are preferred to the anvil type of pruners because they are less damaging to the plant stem when pruning. The anvil type of pruners crushes the stem as it cuts and can harm the plant.

anvil-vs-bypass-pruners-michigan-state-univ

Photo of pruner types is from Michigan State University

Long-handled loppers are great for making pruning cuts on medium-sized branches, those that are ½ – 2 inches in width. There are many choices in your lopper purchases. Some have a standard length and some have telescoping handles, allowing them to be used higher into the tree or deeper into the shrub. Just like with the hand pruners, the bypass loppers are better than the anvil type.

For larger pruning jobs, a handsaw will be necessary. Again, there are many different types of handsaws you can purchase. I prefer the folding type which is safer and easier to transport because it fits nicely in my gardening bag.

A good spade is necessary for gardening. I prefer to keep a hand spade nearby for small jobs like planting vegetables and annuals and a long-handled spade for larger jobs such as planting trees and shrubs and to dig up large plants for removal or to divide. There are 2 main types of spades to use in the garden, the rounded spade and the flat spade. The flat spade is good for edging a garden and to get weedy growth off of bricks and edging each year. The rounded spade is good for digging into hard soil and for planting. I like some of the shorter handled rounded spades with a good point on the end. One particular model I like is the spade with an arrow-shaped head on it. This model moves through the soil much easier than some of the other spades.

One final tool that is very helpful for the avid gardener, would be a garden hoe. I have a hand-held Japanese sickle that I prefer to use. I can swipe it through the garden between my plants and it pulls up and cuts off all the weeds in your garden. You can even use this for weeds growing up through the mulch. You may have to move the mulch back a little after going through for weeds, but it is very quick and easy to use.

weeding-sickle

Japanese Weeding Sickle

So get out your gardening books and find what works best for you and restock your garden tools.