OK. that’s enough winter! Aren’t we fickle? For those who were disappointed early in the winter when we had experienced no cold weather – hope you’re happy now!
I am one who is always thinking we really haven’t had any winter; I haven’t gotten to wear my new sweater yet. And then after we have our cold and all the plants look so sad, I feel bad for having seemingly wished this upon them.
And the phone calls pour in – can I cut all this dead stuff off my lantana; and is it time to cut back my bougainvillaea? We, the great cleaner uppers of landscape and nature! And here is my best advice: no, don’t do it yet. I know you don’t like looking at blackened foliage, but if you trim it off and expose the tender growth beneath that was being protected by that tough frozen mass, it will most likely freeze down again, and you will have to prune it again and you might end up with next to nothing.
So if you can stand it, leave it alone until at least mid- February and console yourself with the fact that your neighbor’s landscape looks the same.
When we prune, it tells the plant that it needs to replace what has been cut off, a process that is fairly quick. It only takes trimming a little too early, plus a little late frost, to push the damage beyond where you can have a quick recovery.
If you feel like pruning, there are many things you can prune now to their benefit. Deciduous trees like ash or Chinese pistache or stone fruits like peaches and plums are best pruned this time of year.
For trees that become very leafy, it is difficult to see the form of the tree itself after it has leafed out. Right now, you have a clear view of the scaffolding of branches that make up the tree’s skeleton and it is quite easy to see which need to be removed because they are crisscrossing or rubbing on another. Also, the tree’s sap is thick and sluggish at this point and the cut will heal before the sap leaks.
And don’t forget the grapes! You will want to make sure they get pruned severely before they are suddenly covered in new leaves and you realize you missed your grape date!
The native mesquites are bare as well, and it won’t be much longer before the non-native mesquite have to admit that they actually do get rid of their leaves each year before they get to put on their new ones. Now is the perfect time to do any major shaping on these trees as well.
And before you know it, you will be pruning your roses. Then we will all be wondering what happened to winter!
There are plenty of projects to keep your pruners busy until the middle of February. And even if your pruners run out of projects, I would wager that there is a shovel somewhere in your garage or tool shed that’s itching for a workout!
Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.