This week, WCQS gardening expert Alison Arnold talks about the dramatic swings in temperature and what gardeners should do about it.
Jeremy Loeb: With the rather quick shifts in weather - from cold to warm and cold again - are there any concerns for the plants like the early Daffodils? Is there anything to do to protect them?
Alison Arnold: Most spring flowering plants inherently are cold hardy and can tolerate a bit of cold but it does depend on the plant and it’s stage of growth. For instance with daffodils if the flowers are still in bud they will survive. It’s when they are fully open they can freeze. Cool season vegetable crops can also tolerate a bit of cold as long as they’ve acclimated to cold temperatures. If they’ve come right from a greenhouse they may be tender and will freeze if they aren’t hardened off properly
JL: I imagine the warm days give gardeners time to catch up on their pruning and getting the early spring garden going - are we still in a good window to prune fruiting plants as well as ornamentals?
AA: Yes there’s still time and what I think is a very important step and encourage people to really think about is.. to think both about the type of plant they are pruning and also Why they are pruning. Understanding both of these questions will then help determine not only HOW to prune but whether pruning is even necessary.
JL: OK so you’re saying that an important first step is to know what the plant is – right?
AA: Exactly. I always like to say that plants are like people, they have a natural shape and character, personality and so getting to know the plant will help you know more about them and know how to prune. It’s also really really important to find out when the plant flowers. A common problem with pruning is that it’s often done at the wrong time of year, which removes flower buds. For instance if you prune spring flowering hydrangeas, forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons in the fall, winter or even early spring before they bloom – all their buds are cur off and they wont bloom.
JL: Now that we know about the plant and when it flowers - talk to us about the WHY of pruning?
AA: I think plants do better if we simply work to enhance their natural shape rather than shearing and shaping them into something they aren’t – Forysthia is a great example – this multi stem shrub with its upright arching sprays when sheared into tight balls is simply not a pretty sight. So - YES! Why do we prune plants?
We basically prune to increase its health, productivity and appearance. Pruning can increase fruiting and flowering by removing dead, diseased or weak stems and increasing light and air circulation into the plant.
JL: How does someone then go about even knowing where to start pruning?
AA: OK so now is the time to go slow and stop often. Prune a little and then step back and review your work. It’s important to know when to stop. You can cut off a branch but you can’t stick it back on. I always always tell people to with removing what I call the 3 D’s – anything that is dead, diseased and damaged and any stems that grow towards the interior of the plant or are crossing or rubbing other stems. Often removing the deadwood and crossing branches is enough. It’s certainly a good starting place.
JL: Is there more?
AA: Oh yes… removing suckers at the base of trees especially anything below a graft union is good. Vigorous uprights shoots and sprouts can be removed. In smaller trees often they develop a second trunk or co-dominate leader and it’s good to prune those out while the tree is young. Low branches can also be removed – to help make it easier where you need to walk or work around the base of the plant.