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In spring when you've discovered winter's toll:
- Dead or badly damaged? Cut it -- sooner rather
than later. In early spring new growth erupts with more energy than
at any other time of year. If you cut out what could only grow
weakly, the plant will put more oomph into the rest, and push out
more new buds. See Sage says cut weak wood
hard. and Remedy rabbit damage for
- Cut back any branch growing in a direction you
don't like, even if it is not
damaged: Now is a good time. Prune to just above a
better-directed bud or branch. Spring's strong growth will do the
Right: Evergreen wintercreeper
(Euonymus fortunei) always has
at least one wild branch. This one lost foliage to the cold,
above what was then the snow line. Like other broadleaf
evergreens it can grow back after defoliation. Yet why
suffer unattractive branches? Cut it!
- On a needled evergreen, make every cut to just
above a side branch that has intact needles or live buds. Leave a
tip-less end and you create a leafless stub -- ugly brown that also
blocks light from deeper buds. See What's
Coming Up 188 for detailed clipping instructions and
photos for a whole line-up of needled evergreens.
- On a deciduous shrub or tree, or a broadleaf evergeen
shrub, you simply cut to strong, undamaged wood. Don't be
concerned about preserving buds or leaves. Don't worry if this
creates "holes" in a plant's surface. Light will penetrate there
and stimulate the growth of dormant buds. New greenery will fill
the hole and increase the depth of the plant's canopy. (More about
this on a falsecypress.)
- Where all live buds are concentrated at branch
ends, cut at least some branches back to well below the
buds. New growth will erupt from below each cut. (Bayberry and holly as
- Can't tell if it's dead? Check back weekly.
Prune as soone as growth begins. Leave strong shoots. (Boxwood as an example.)
You can cut almost anything almost any time but sometimes a
particular timing increases efficiency and insures a better
outcome, sooner. See Timeline for
Hose helps in pruning conifers
Right: This blue Sawara falsecypress lost not only
foliage but some buds to winter's cold. The remaining foliage will
be more than enough to support the plant. We'll prune to remove the
dead, weakest and most crowded twigs.
Seeing clearly is half the battle, in pruning. When you
work on conifers such as this falsecypress you can use a strong
stream of water to clear away dead needles. This helps you see
where to cut, admits more light to remaining buds and decreases
dead needle build up that can turn the plant's interior into a
congested, dusty place -- a haven for pesty mites.
Fragrant bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is evergreen in
mild climates. Cold can make it drop its foliage but it makes a
strong comeback from the wax-protected buds (right) and it
can push dormant growth even from leafless wood. So when a bayberry
like this one (below) defoliates in winter, don't just
shear its unfortunate clutter of branched tips that spring. Cut
some branches back below the crowded outer shell. Greenery will
sprout from within.
Continual shearing without any
thinning can turn evergreen holly into a hollow ball. If your holly
looks like this after winter, it may be a blessing. (Right;
yes, all those browned leaves are doomed to fall.)
Cut out all the of the holly's spindly stems. Then cut all the
husky wood so new shoots it produces can grow for several inches
before being sheared again. Finally, cut about 1/3 of the branches
back even further so new growth will come from many levels within
the outline. (This will almost certainly remove all flower buds.
You sacrifice one year's flower and fruit for a plant that is
denser and eventually more fruitful. For more about pruning to
rejuvenate a hollow holly, see Hard cuts for overgrown
Wait and see strategy
Betting on boxwood: Some varieties of boxwood go bronze during
winter but those leaves green up again as spring advances. If you
are not sure your boxwood follows that procedure, wait for new
growth to begin then cut as you see fit.
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