3810 Whites Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 (615) 876-1014

Archive date:  February 18, 2010

To Trim, or not To Trim

That IS the question…

With winter waning, a subject on many minds is trimming. Surely the end of winter is near; no doubt it is delayed this year by at least a couple of weeks. At least the forecasts are showing liquid precipitation. We are all about to go stir-crazy. Trimming will help. There is something about wacking a hedge back that does a soul good. Before you proceed gung-ho let’s discuss where to begin.

First on my list is liriope. I have a bed of Monroe White Liriope, about 500 plants that must be trimmed now. What makes trimming early any type of monkey grass important is completing the task prior to new growth emergence. Even if you only have a few, it is much easier to do while they are still dormant.

While we’re on the subject of grasses, any other ornamental grasses you have can be pruned now.

Certainly you can prune broadleaf and conifers alike now. There’s no real rush though. If you have a really large holly that has gotten completely out-of-hand, this is the time of year to take it back hard. Make sure you have a good pair of loppers (long handled pruners) and a saw to get the job done easily. It is important to remember that conifers do not respond well to such harsh pruning techniques. If you cut any needled plant back beyond the needles, it will likely not flush out new growth, or it will be spotty at best.

You probably have already cleaned up your perennials, if not, get on with it. It’s a great time to re-mulch while you’re at it. And don’t forget to apply pre-emergent herbicide before mulching…the herbicide is more effective when it makes direct contact with the soil. Also, re-mulching is much more easily done before the plants begin to sprout (that goes for the monkey grass too).

Now for the flowering plants: Pay close attention. Here is the general rule for pruning flowering plants: Early flowering plants set bud the previous year, on the prior year’s wood, right? I know it may seem obvious, but I don’t know how many people we talk to every year that have trouble with their forsythia, quince, azaleas, winter jasmine, lilacs, and garden hydrangeas, to name a few. There is usually a common thread: they got trimmed after June. Often much after. None of these plants need to be trimmed annually or at all. If you must prune them, do so immediately after they flower. If they don’t flower, you might want to not trim this year. It might just give them a chance to set bud for next year.

Then there are the late flowering plants. These are plants that flower on the current year’s wood; the new growth. Plants such as roses, crepe myrtle, spiraea, butterfly bush, Annabelle and Limelight hydrangeas all produce bloom buds on the growth that will soon emerge. Most of these plants benefit from early trimming, since they all exhibit rapid growth habits. Most can be pruned quite severely, and may need it to keep them from getting too large or leggy. I am not a fan of the severe pruning practice of upright growing crepe myrtles. This technique has crept into neighborhoods from commercial landscape maintenance crews. This type of butchery really destroys the natural shape. It may be acceptable in a commercial landscape setting, but don’t do it at your house! The need to severely prune such a plant every year indicates it being planted in the wrong location or it simply was a poor choice for the spot.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox. If you are in doubt as to what you have and when to trim, take some pictures, cut a couple of branches, bring ‘em out and we’ll help you make the correct decisions…before you trim.

Just 30 days until spring,

David Bates