Winter’s almost over, and it only takes a few days of warm weather to push us, groundhog-like, outside.
It’s tempting to get ahead of ourselves. For instance, it’s not quite time to fertilize lawns or plant bell peppers, but there’s no off season when it comes to Louisiana gardening.
Now is a good time to prune most dormant trees, but please read before you start hacking away. We’ve all seen the results of “crape murder” — that awful practice of cutting crape myrtles midtrunk.
Before you prune, have some goals in mind. Are you looking to improve the tree’s shape? Do you want the tree to be shorter or narrower? If so, pruning can help, but only so much. Extreme changes would require different tree selections (and perhaps a time machine.) Does it need to be thinned for aesthetics or air flow? Are there dead branches? If the answer is “yes,” then pruning may be for you.
First, you should almost never cut a branch or limb midway. Stubs or stumps invite disease.
Cut the branch to its next nearest junction, just outside the branch collar. This is an area, more obvious on some species than others, just before the crotch where the bark looks wrinkled. The wrinkled part is what will grow over the wound. Trees do not heal like we do, but compartmentalize wounds.
Try not to cut branches more than two to four inches in diameter. Larger wounds take too long to heal. Research shows that applying goos or tars to the cut hinders the recovery process.
Many fruit trees need pruning to stimulate blooming and fruit production. In this case, go for air flow and let light get to the leaves.
Peach and plum trees need the most severe pruning. You want them to look like upside-down umbrellas when you’re done. Cut anything that’s too tall or growing inward.
Apples and pears can be cut to one central trunk with others pointing away close to 90 degrees. To augment this, tie weights to small branches, tie larger branches to stakes, or add spacers to push them out.
Another category of pruning is to remove dead or dying branches or those that rub together and will cause problems later. This can be done at just about any time. But if it’s freeze damage, wait until weather really warms and growth begins. That way you can see what’s really frozen and what will recover.
In any pruning, don’t be scared to cut. You can take off as much as one-third to one-half of volume (that you see) without stressing the tree.
Keep your goals in mind, make some cuts, then step back and look. Re-evaluate; then start cutting again. Repeat until you’re satisfied or your spouse starts screaming, whichever comes first.
It’s easy to make another cut, but hard to put stuff back on. That’s what my barber keeps telling me.
Contact West Feliciana Assistant County Agent André Brock at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (225) 635-3614.