During the long, hot dog days of late summer, I always notice that I get fewer calls from home gardeners. That was especially true this year. In the 100-degree heat who wants to go outside and work in the yard?
All of that changes with the arrival of autumn. The temperatures moderate. The leaves begin to change. The skies are blue and everything outside is inviting.
Even folks that seldom venture outside in their yards find themselves eagerly enjoying yard work.
They begin to notice that some plants may have gotten a little “leggy” since the last time they were in the yard. Well, since it is a beautiful day for yard work it would be a good time to do some pruning right?
In spite of our natural inclinations, fall is not the recommended time to prune woody shrubs and trees. The first reason to avoid fall pruning is because fall pruned shrubs tend to have more winter injury.
Pruning actually invigorates some plants. Pruning a long branch or shoot stimulates the growth of buds that have lain dormant.
If you observe a shrub that was pruned last year you will often notice that two or three new shoots often develop just below the pruning cut. It takes time for the buds that produce those shoots to sprout. Then it takes a little longer for the tender new shoots to grow.
If the plant was pruned in the spring, then we seldom see problems. By the time the buds and shoots develop, the weather has usually warmed enough that the tender new shoots are not damaged.
If we prune in the fall, then the story is different. Pruning in the fall can lead to the development of tender shoots, which are then exposed to harsh winter temperatures. Cold winter winds can damage or even kill these young shoots.
Fall pruning can also have an adverse effect on early spring flowering plants. Azaleas, for example, have already set their buds for next year’s flowers.
If you prune them now, they will not have time to develop a new set of flower buds before next spring.
The result is that your azaleas will not flower well. This is true of many other spring flowering plants as well.
To avoid these problems, we have a general rule of thumb for pruning:
• Shrubs that flower before the month of May (azaleas, etc.) should be pruned immediately after they finish flowering each year. Certainly no later than July 4th.
• Woody plants that flower later than May should be pruned in late February or very early in March.
Of course, there are exceptions to these rules so feel free to contact me at the Extension office t 912-653-2231 if you have questions.
Increased winter injury and the negative impact on flowering are two good reasons to avoid heavy fall pruning. There are, however, some reasons to do minor pruning now.
Broken limbs or branches can be removed now. If left n the plant they can cause tearing of the bark, creating larger wounds that provide openings for disease and decay. Just clip them off just above a side growing shoot.
You can also do minor pruning to remove diseased wood or parts of the plant that have died back due to drought. Just remember, the more you prune now the more you increase the likelihood of winter injury.
Get out and enjoy the autumn weather. If you see a broken branch, sure, clip it out. But don’t get carried away with those pruners! Instead, get ready to use some of that energy raking leaves.