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Pruning helps plants survive ravages of winter months

Saturday, February 24, 2001

By Claire Dusak and Miranda Sutton, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Pittsburgh's cold, snowy winters mean gardens need special care. To keep your plants and blossoms healthy after many weeks of harsh temperatures, snow and ice, you must properly prune your plants.

Special Full Page Guide

PG artist Diane Juravich offers a step-by-step pruning guide to some of Western Pennsylvania's plants. See Saturday's print Post-Gazette.

In Zone 6 (Pittsburgh), winter pruning is typically done in late winter to early spring. Exceptions include plants that suffered damage from snow and/or winter storms; the damaged sections of the plants should be immediately removed to protect the rest of the plant.

The best time to prune is during dry spells or days with milder temperatures. Because the trees and shrubs are leafless and the whole structure of the plant is visible, it is much easier to decide where and how much to prune. However, it is usually best to avoid pruning most spring-blooming plants in late winter, as you will interfere with that year's blooming period.


Previous articles in series

Three societies pick the top garden plants for 2001

Sources of holiday scents lie in plants near, far

Mum's the word for autumn gardens, for this year and the next

History, architecture play part in 'mystique' of Japanese gardening

Helping native wildflowers continue to bloom


This is one of a series of periodic columns by staffers of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Claire Dusak is the outdoor garden manager at Phipps, and Miranda Sutton is Phipps' communications coordinator.


Fruit trees and fruit-bearing shrubs all have specific needs to promote fruit production. Ideal times for pruning varies from late fall to late winter. Pruning schedules will vary greatly among different plants, and each plant does not necessarily require pruning every year. The plant type, extent of growth and flowering and general condition need to be considered for every plant.

Be sure to watch your garden throughout the year, and take into consideration unusual seasons that might affect overall performance. Don't prune just to prune -- make the decision wisely. To ensure proper care for specific plants, purchase a good book detailing plant pruning. These books may be found at reputable nurseries and garden centers and full-service bookstores.

Branches from decorative plants such as holly may be cut earlier in the winter to enjoy indoors. Also, branches from a number of flowering shrubs may be cut and forced for early flowering indoors. Forsythia, witchhazel and Cornus mas (Cornelian cherry) can be forced in January. Wait until the end of February to cut branches of Acer rubrum (red maple).

Some plants that typically benefit from late-winter pruning include Wisteria, Buddleja davidii, Hydrangea arborescens, Hydrangea paniculata, Spiraea x bumalda, Spiraea japonica and Opteris cary (Bluebeard). In order to restrict their size or to encourage larger but fewer flowers, cut all of the previous year's growth shoots back so only two to three buds or shoots remain. Avoid cutting back into the older wood unless you are interested in reducing the size of the entire plant.

If plants are properly taken care of through the winter months, gardeners will be rewarded with healthy, colorful gardens throughout the rest of the year.

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