Salisbury, MD. Once we've passed mid-winter (Groundhog's Day to most of you, day after her birthday to Granny Griffith), common gardening wisdom says that the first warm day is when you do your winter pruning. Now, admittedly, this is not a universally accepted philosophy. In fact, there are as many theories on how and when to prune as there are Gardening Grannies. Perhaps, even more.
Basically, according to Granny Griffith who always takes the lead in debatable issues such as this, you can do your winter pruning any day after a hard enough freeze has put your trees and shrubs into full winter dormancy. She actually pruned her peach trees that warm weekend at the end of December last year without any obvious repercussions. The rest of the Grannies strongly recommend waiting at least until mid-January but, I ask you, when did majority opinion ever effect what Granny Griffith decided to do?
While we haven't had nearly as much snow as last winter (knock on wood), the Grannies were discussing how much intervention is actually required when it does snow. No surprise here, but the Grannies are split on whether or not to wrap burlap around tender new shrubs or knock snow off unprotected ones. Here's how the split goes down.
Granny Griffith ascribes to the theory of "survival of the fittest". Translation: if it can't take a little snow, it probably wasn't meant to be. Other Grannies, who do not hold full-time jobs, have gardening help or are generally more tender-hearted, have been known to stake and wrap smaller shrubs with burlap and dutifully brave freezing temperatures to knock snow from branches of "vulnerable" plantings. Some do so with tender loving care and other just whack at them with a broom to get the job done. Overall, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference in plant survival ratios between the theories. Admittedly, Granny Griffith does a bit more corrective pruning to make up for her tougher theories, but not a whole lot.
So, "D. Day" (translation: Decision Day) and Groundhog Day is almost upon us. Despite the bitterly cold and windy weather, the Grannies are predicting a warm-ish weekend around the second week in February. The Gardening Grannies actually agree on the next steps, regardless of whether you've protected your plantings or have left them to the proverbial wolves. Assuming that we don't get any snow between now and then, just wait until the ground has dried out a bit. On the next reasonably warm day, venture out armed with gloves, pruners and your wheelbarrow. Take a good hard look at your target plant. Walk all around it surveying how it actually looks. Then, give thought to how you want it to look. The first step is to cut off dead and damaged wood. Then, re-evaluate your project and begin secondary pruning to arrive at the desired shape. Keep in mind that if your plant is a spring bloomer, the more severe the winter pruning, the less blooms you will have this spring. That leads us to a time-honored principle regarding pruning: the best time to prune any flowering plant is shortly after it has stopped blooming….be that spring, summer, winter or fall. Just remember the rule and apply it to the plant in question.
"Gardening Grannies", a mature group of avid and Master Gardeners, live, love and garden on the Delmarva Peninsula. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and we look forward to hearing from you.