Although we had a mere hint of winter, we did have enough cold nights to cause some damage to a few plants in my yard. Last weekend, I worked a few hours pruning all of the cold-damaged branches. Most of the plants had already begun to force out new growth, so the pruning should lead to bushy plants.
The bougainvillea that was almost leafless after the last cold night has already filled in nicely, and some colorful flowers are visible. I gave it quite a hard pruning, not only to force new growth but to keep it to a manageable size.
After you have removed all of your cold damage, there are a few other chores you can attend to. An easy project for both the adult and the child gardeners in your house is planting seeds. This is a good time to plant seeds. If you want an easy, inexpensive addition to your flower garden, try planting marigolds (use the dried seeds from the marigolds in your garden), alyssum, zinnia, sweet peas and snapdragons. I've had luck with these, and with just a few dollars you can have hundreds of flowers. Prepare the ground properly, keep the seeds moist and add a little fertilizer every few weeks. You'll be amazed at the color in your garden.
This is the time of year to plant and prune many of our deciduous fruiting plants. If the trees are already blooming, you have waited too long and will have to wait until fall or early next winter to prune.
It's best to develop a plan before dragging out your pruning equipment. Deciduous fruiting plants are not as forgiving as ornamental shrubs or trees if the pruning is done improperly. Remember, prune to train young trees, shape mature trees and rejuvenate older plants.
Training should be done when you plant young trees. Peach, plum and apple trees are available at our local garden centers. The goal of training is to develop a strong framework and maximum production.
Apple, pear and persimmon trees are pruned with a modified central leader. This consists of a central trunk with five to seven side branches spaced evenly along the trunk. Keep those limbs with wide crotch angles, somewhere between 45 and 60 degrees. This is a multiyear project. In a young tree, you may have to train the crotches by wedging a piece of wood between the trunk and the branch or tying down a branch with string or twine. Tie the string to a stake in the ground and gently pull on the branch to increase the crotch angle. Make sure you remove these training devices before they harm the tree.
Peaches, nectarines and plums
Peaches, nectarines and plums are pruned to an open-vase system. There is no central leader, but branches that grow out from the center. Each winter, prune any diseased, dead or rubbing branches. Prune branches that are growing upright or toward the middle to keep the inside of the tree open. Remove any sprouts coming from the roots or below the major scaffold (side) branches. Pruning may be required once fruit is set to reduce fruit load, or fruit can be clipped off with hand shears. Fruit should be left about 6 inches apart.
More about pears
Pears tend to produce upright growth, and the trees are susceptible to fire blight, which can kill a tree. Excessive pruning makes the tree more prone to this deadly disease. Just prune to remove dead or diseased limbs or branches that are rubbing. Pears often produce suckers, which grow straight up. These should be pruned back to the place of origin.
Blackberries should be pruned to the ground immediately after fruiting. New growth will develop during the summer, which will produce next year's crop. This pruning will reduce pest and disease problems.
Blueberries should be pruned one-third to one-half off the top when planted. Any weak growth should also be removed. For the next few years, remove weak growth and diseased or damaged wood. After a plant is 5 to 7 years old, cane renewal becomes important. Each year remove 25 percent of the older canes, cutting them to a strong limb or close to the ground. This should be done yearly.
Prune apple trees to control size and remove rubbing, dead or diseased limbs. Remove branches that are too vigorous and compete with the main trunk as well as upright sprouts. Thin out interior growth to allow light penetration into the tree.
Muscadine grapes are vigorous vining growers, and it is best to train them to a trellis. An easy method is to space two strong poles about 12 to 15 feet apart and attach a single, strong wire about 5 or 6 feet above the ground. Plant the vine midway between these two poles. A small stake or string is needed to guide the vine up to the wire. When the shoot reaches the wire, prune the tip and allow two side branches to form. Train one branch in each of the two directions.
Muscadine grapes should also be pruned this month, although some bleeding may occur. This is normal and will not damage the plant. All branches that are less than three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter should be left with just two or three buds per spur (short stem). Remove most of the spurs at the top of the trunk to prevent crowding and bushiness.
More information on pruning is available at trec.ifas.ufl.edu/fruitscapes/temperate.html.
They're worth it
Don't think that deciduous plants just aren't worth the trouble. Once you pick a peach from your tree or grab a handful of fresh blueberries for your morning cereal, you'll know they are worth the little extra work involved.
This is a great time to add these dual-purpose plants — both ornamental and edible — to your garden.