This is a great time to take a look at woody plants and see where they need cleaned up or pruned a bit. Here in my yard, some of the shrubs and trees are breaking bud, and some even have little leaves emerging….makes me a tad nervous, as we can get some seriously harsh frosts for another 3 weeks, and can even see more snow, hoping that it is not the case! But, nature responds to the extended day light hours and warming of the air and soil, so here come the leaves!

I did a lot of cleaning around the yard this weekend, and took note of some of the plants that need a little care. As always, winter has left damage on some of the branches, thus needing attention, and there is also some animal damage that will need to be pruned back. I like to give everything some attention, prior to leaf set, as this is when you can see where branches are laying, and prune accordingly.

A couple of rules apply to most trees: If branches are rubbing one another, prune off the one who has grown out of order….often a ‘water sprout’ branch will grow from an established branch, and is usually a very rapidly growing, straight upwardly moving branch. These are generally a result of some tree stress, and should be pruned out. They are very common on fruit trees, and because they grow upward instead of outward, they are often the cause of rub. Also on fruiting trees, prune out some of the branches each spring, in an effort to help the tree be effective in producing good fruit without being over burdened. Prune top branches down, to keep fruit trees from getting so tall, it is impossible to pick from them. Check for cracked bark, or places where sap is oozing from winter damage. If the branch is not too large, prune it back, but remember that trees are very good healers, so if you are worried about damaging the tree further, leave it be….nature is amazing at mending itself.

My lilacs are starting to really pop with leaf buds, and generally, I prune lilacs right after they are done flowering, as they set flower buds late in the summer, so spring pruning will result in a loss of flowers. I do have one that I didn’t get pruned and need to snip off the old seed heads from last season, but that is all I will do right now.

I also pruned my birch late in the summer….both birch and maple should not be pruned in the spring, as they will run sap from any cut, and may ‘bleed’ to death.

Evergreens also do not need to be pruned until later in the spring….late June is a good time to do this. While many evergreens are fine without pruning, some of the low growing junipers do need a little pruning from time to time to keep them in check. Try to wear good leather gloves, and prune back to a joint, rather than shearing evergreens. They will appreciate this effort and reward you with lovely green growth.

Clematis also needs tending in the spring, depending on the category you are growing. I grow Clematis ‘C’ group, as they bloom only on new wood and can be cut back to the ground each spring. They grow quickly and are wonderful summer bloomers. Group ‘B’ will bloom on both old and new, and ‘A’ on only old wood. I have found that there is limited guarantee of the woody stems surviving the harsh winter season, so it is difficult to get blossoms from category ‘A’ here.

My shrubs are needing a bit of tending, but these I will leave for a little while longer. I have several varieties of Spirea throughout the yard, and some are showing leaf, but some are slow to start. Be patient….it is very easy to think that a shrub has no life, and hack away at it, to find the little stems are green inside, and some time would have been all they need! My Ninebarks are in the same category: just not sure how much damage they have, so I will wait. They are very forgiving anyway, and can be pruned back any time. Also, follow the rule of cutting out one third of the shrub branches each spring. This will allow new ones to grow each year and rejuvenate your shrubs wonderfully. Just be sure to prune these right back to the crown or as close as you can!

Pruning is not difficult, use sharp tools, cut close to the branch if taking a whole stem, or prune back to a leaf node, and always cut at an angle! But do prune! Your trees will thank you! And right now, while you can see the bare branches, is a perfect time for fruit and ornamental trees!

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