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Gotta Prune Those Plants? Maybe Not.

Pruning? Think twice!
Pruning? Think twice!

When it comes to yard work during the wintertime, pruning plants is considered by far the top chore. It is common in January and February to see your neighbor and other homeowners spending their Saturdays cutting on the plants around their home. They are working away cutting back those plants.  All this interesting work and the funny shaped plants left behind might inspire you to go get your pruning shears out and go ahead and prune your plants.

Before you do that, ask yourself this important question: Just why are you pruning those plants?  Because your neighbor is pruning theirs?  The fact is you may NOT need to prune your plants.

The practice of pruning plants is somewhat overrated and many times not even necessary. If done correctly, pruning is a technique used to aid in the health and beauty of ornamental plants.  Pruning should be done to remove dead and poor growth, and somewhat control the plant’s size and shape.  It will encourage flower or fruit production, and can discourage disease and promote growth by letting light and air into the interior of the plant.

More importantly, pruning encourages re-growth. The simple translation: pruning stimulates growth.  It triggers growth at the cut and/or other places.  All those branches and limbs that were just cut will grow right back and typically twice as thick.  The result is more to be pruned later and more yard work for yourself.  There is no stopping a plant from reaching its mature size; its genetics.

Many people who prune their plants do not understand why they are doing it, nor do they know how to do it properly. Plants should not be pruned just because your neighbor was pruning theirs or because someone said it was a good idea. Care-free pruning, especially if done wrong, can actually do more harm than good.

The key is to have a logical reason to prune or not. An answer of “it has gotten too big” is usually just an excuse and result of having a big plant in a small space.  Be smart on plant selection and know the mature size before planting it.

When to prune is also important and depends on the type of plant and the reason for pruning. For almost all plants, however, fall and early winter are bad pruning times, because the tender re-growth stimulated by pruning will be damaged by cold weather. February tends to be the best time for most plants, especially evergreens and fruit crops. However, when it comes to flowering plants, the general rule of thumb is this: if the plant begins blooming before May, prune immediately after blooms fade; if the plant begins to bloom in May or later, prune in late February or early March, before the start of new spring growth.

Extension has plenty of resources and expertise on how to properly prune fruit trees, crape myrtles, roses, muscadines, and all other plants. Contact our office and we can help. If your plants look fine and are doing great, then there may be no reason to prune.

For more information, contact the Coffee County Extension Office, call 334-894-5596 or visit www.aces.edu.

Thanks to Shane Harris, CEC Tallapoosa County, for this article.