Cut It or Leave It? What to Prune and What to Leave Standing
For most of us, winter’s a time to fight with our snow blowers, be cold, and pack on a bit of insulation (Christmas cookies, anyone?) For your plants, however, it’s a time to lay low and conserve energy for the explosion of new life ahead in the spring. While winter pruning can help several of your plants prepare for spring, it’s important to know which will appreciate a winter haircut and which ones might hate you for it.
What to Prune During our Long Island Winters
We know what you’re thinking: why would I need to prune my plants in the winter, anyway? Most plants are dormant during the winter months, and this seasonal slumber means you can see their bare bones easier without all those bushy leaves in the way. As a result, this is a great time to get to work reshaping and restraining certain plants! Doing so can not only revive struggling plants, but also prevent certain diseases from spreading. So, break out the clippers; here’s what you’ll want to prune this winter season!
Bush and climbing rose varieties do well with a hard winter prune, as it promotes vigorous growth in the spring and summer months. When looking to prune roses, focus on shrub roses, hybrid teas, and floribundas; leave rambling roses until late summer for major cut-back work. Also, remember to wear a pair of good gardening gloves when pruning roses to protect against thorns. They hurt!
If you’ve grown a grapevine monster, give this deciduous woody vine a chance to enter full dormancy before giving it a makeover. Grapevines “bleed” sap if cut during active growing months, so your best bet is to wait until December-January to prune these plants. Some good advice to remember is that grapevines produce fruit on one–year–old wood, meaning that your mission as a plant barber is to ensure enough of these vines remain without enticing too many grape clusters to grow.
Apple and Pear Trees
These fruit trees are also among the plants to prune in winter to encourage strong fruit production. Cutting apple and pear trees back in the winter allows them to focus more energy into the remaining buds. Snip off any shots at the base of the plant and any parts that look diseased or dead. Keep an eye out for any branches rubbing together, too, and give them the boot. While apple and pear trees are good to get the snip during winter, we suggest leaving any stone fruits alone until summer to avoid disease.
Since you’ve got your cleaned and sharpened shears out already, you might as well tidy up those fruit bushes too. Fall–bearing fruit plants like raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries will all benefit from being pruned back in winter, giving you an epic harvest next season. The best way to encourage new growth and prevent your bushes from growing too tall is to prune a goblet shape, cutting back some old wood each year.
Some Other Contenders for Winter Pruning:
- butterfly bush
- group 3 clematis
Plants You’ll Want to Leave Alone this Winter:
- pear trees
- cherry trees
Some Basic Pruning Principles
You’re going to be pruning most of your plants pretty much the same way, so follow these tips for successful plant chopping this winter:
- Use clean, sharpened secateurs and shears to prune, preventing poor cuts and the spread of disease among plants.
- Wear gloves to prune. No brainer!
- Remove leftover leaves from plants to see the structure of bushes and trees before you prune.
- Cut off any dead wood (if it’s dead, it will be brown inside. Time to check!)
- Get rid of cris–crossing branches. They’re all trouble and will rub your plants the wrong way.
- Remove any weak growth.
- For roses, prune remaining canes at 45-degree angles, sloping away from the bud to encourage outward growth.
- Don’t be shy! If it looks like it shouldn’t be there, it probably shouldn’t. This rule is especially relevant to grapevines, as you’ll want to remove about 90% of last year’s growth.
If you’re enthusiastic about pruning your plants in winter, you’ll be off to a great flowering season next year! If you’re still unsure about which of your plants need a Christmas trim, stop by The Dees’ Nursery today to learn more about what plants to prune in winter on Long Island. We’ll help you figure out which plants want to be shaped up and which want to stay shaggy!