Their sleepy state is the perfect time to give shrubs, trees and perennials a dose of good health — pruning to remove diseased, dying, dead, dangerous, broken, rubbing or crossing branches.
"Pruning is necessary only for the health of the plant," says Kendahl Huber, a shrub and tree expert at the Anderson Home & Garden Showplace in southeastern Virginia.
"Pruning permits better air circulation and sunlight penetration," she says.
"Proper pruning encourages vegetative growth and can stimulate flowering and produce larger, though fewer, fruits."
• Use Lysol to disinfect your pruning tools to stop the spread of fungus and disease.
• Sharpen and oil your tools to increase their life expectancy.
• The basic pruning tools needed include bypass hand pruners for small finger-sized woody stems, loppers for thumb-sized material and a pruning saw for larger branches and trunks. A fine sanding block removes sap and stain on blades, and a sharpening stone enhances their cutting power.
• If you're not sure exactly when to prune a plant and you want to avoid removing desired flowers, use the universal rule: Always prune after flowers are finished.
• Roses are pruned according to the type you grow. Use loppers or pruning shears to cut Knock Out and ground cover varieties back to 12 to 15 inches above ground. Hybrid teas and other roses need more specialized pruning, leaving three to five stems and buds directed outward.
• Perennials, including ground covers, and ornamental grasses can be cleaned up before new growth emerges.
• Cut ¼ inch above the bud and parallel to the bud at a 45-degree angle.
• Leave the branch collar (point where a branch joins the trunk or another branch) when pruning.
• Do not use pruning paint; air best heals a wound.
• Remove rubbing and crossing branches.
• Remove co-dominant leaders, or where a tree has more than one single main stem.
• Remove dead, diseased, damaged and dangerous branches.
• Remove water sprouts, which are shoots that come up from the trunk or branches.
• Remove branches that cross back through the center of the tree.
• Prune young trees to train them for strong growth, eliminating weak branching habits such as narrow V-shaped crotches, or the fork where a main branch joins the trunk.