Dormant trees, shrubs can be shaped

Scratch it with some targeted pruning

This warm, spring-like weather we've been having makes us itchy to get outdoors and get started in our gardens. By the time you read this, of course, the weather may have gone back to its normal Rogue Valley self for this time of year — cold and rainy.

It happens every year — a false spring in February, followed by more cold weather.

Do we ever learn?

The itch comes even if our brains tell us to wait for the real spring. So when is it OK to prune? And can everything be pruned at the same time?

Pruning can promote new plant growth, encourage flowering, remove dead or diseased limbs, or help control the shape and size of the plant. Timing, however, is of utmost importance. This is not the time of year to prune spring-flowering shrubs (pruning those will be addressed in my next column).

At this time of year, we can prune to shape many trees and shrubs while they are still dormant.

I'm talking about crapemyrtle, butterfly bush, flowering plum, honeysuckle, redbud, ornamental pear, potentilla and spirea, to name a few. It's easier to prune them before they leaf out, because you can more easily see the shape of the tree or shrub. You may conclude you don't need to prune some of your trees, and that's fine, too; it's not a requirement. However, any dead or diseased parts, or branches that touch, should be removed.

Pruning will improve the flower display of some plants. As a plant matures, it usually produces more but smaller flowers. Removing some of the wood through pruning will send more energy to produce fewer, but larger flowers.

To understand the effect of pruning, remember that the terminal bud (the one on the end of a shoot) produces a hormone that inhibits the growth of lateral buds along the shoot. So when the terminal bud is removed, the lateral buds 6 to 8 inches below the cut will become active and grow. In general, strong shoots should be moderately pruned and weaker ones severely pruned, as severe pruning will cause vigorous growth, thus making the plant more dense. If you want a reference book, I strongly recommend the American Horticulture Society's "Pruning and Training" by Christopher Brickell.

When pruning, use sharp hand clippers and loppers, but not hedge shears. Using hedge shears on shrubs will cause dense growth on the outside, shading out the inside, making the interior leaves die.

Coming up: On Saturday, March 6, Master gardener Len Tiernan will lead a workshop on rose pruning from 9 a.m. to noon at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. There will be outdoor practice, so dress for the weather and bring gloves and sharp pruners. Cost is $10; for more information call 541-776-7371.

Ready-Set-Grow is an all-day event for beginning gardeners that covers seed starting, vegetable gardening, flower gardening and soils. The date is Saturday, March 13, at the Extension Center. Cost is $5 per class or $15 for the day. Call 541-776-7371 for more information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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