Thursday, February 2, 2017

Spring Pruning: Too Early?

The warm weather this week makes me want to get in the garden. It would certainly be nice to get a jump on some of the spring gardening tasks because rainy spring weather often delays critical tasks. A walk around the garden revealed that some of our plants think that spring has arrived already. The roses have new growth and the daffodils have fat buds that are nearly ready to open.

I like to cut our rose bushes back in early spring because they tend to grow quite large in a single season.  All our roses bloom on new growth so I don't worry about losing blooms (although hard pruning can delay the bloom a bit). But the rule of thumb is to prune roses when the forsythia is blooming, and I have not seen any in bloom yet. So I knew it was a bit early, but since new growth has already started, I didn't see the harm in pruning now. But to confirm, I called the Memphis Botanic Garden and spoke to Rick Pudwell. He confirmed my suspicion that it was a bit early for pruning. He said that freezing weather could make the plant die back below the pruning cut. So I mostly pruned out dead wood, except for one bush that was really overgrown. I pruned this one back a bit, but saved the severe pruning for next month.

One of our early spring tasks every year is to cut back the liriope and evergreen ferns to remove the old, raggedy foliage before the new growth starts. Some people cut their liriope and ornamental grasses to the ground in the fall, but I enjoy the foliage (both the green of the lirope and the brown of the grasses) during the winter. So we usually wait to cut our foliage until the new growth just begins to emerge. Wait too long and it is difficult to cut the old growth without cutting the new sprouts. Cut it back early enough (before new growth begins) and you can use hedge clippers or a string trimmer and make a quick job of it. 

So, even though our evergreen ferns still looked pretty good,  I decided to take advantage of the warm temperatures to begin cutting back some of the worst-looking foliage on our autumn and holly ferns. While doing this, I was very surprised to see that the holly fern had already begun to produce new fiddleheads. This sight motivated me to cut back not only all our evergreen ferns but the liriope as well. Although I did not see any new growth on the autumn ferns or the liriope, with this continued mild weather I wouldn't be surprised to see new growth any day now. We seem to be on track for an early spring, regardless of Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of 6 more weeks of winter.

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