Getting busy with the winter pruning

Deer Gardener by Elaine Nyeholdt: frosty windshields and crunchy lawns do not seem to be enough to hold back the buds on the salmonberry.

  • Feb. 5, 2016 9:00 a.m.

The few mornings that have given us frosty windshields and crunchy lawns do not seem to be enough to hold back the buds on the salmonberry.  This is a sign that our winter pruning needs to get done pronto. Once the sap is running the growth begins quickly, even if it’s only the buds swelling at first.

Serious shaping of most shrubs should be done when there is no danger of the plant putting out new growth that will be killed off by a cold snap.  Our traditional March/April snowy spell I do not consider to be cold enough to kill buds, it will just slow them down, and make us feel miserable.  The bitter and drying winter winds do the most damage to new growth.

My Rhodo’s are ‘tucked in’ with the coldish mornings.  The flower buds are prominently pointing like the nose of a space ship, with the leaves being the body.  They make me smile.

Even Rhododendron need branches lopped very occasionally to shape the bush and remove broken limbs.  Dead and damaged limbs attract insects and invite diseases to develop, which can affect the production of flowers.  Some of our Rhodo’s are so large that I am tempted to lop off the odd lower branch.  However, those are the branches we can use to grow new Rhodo plants, by ground-layering, and these shrubs need shaded roots without other plants or weeds growing under them because of their shallow feeder roots.  Resist lopping limbs if you can.  Love being told to do nothing!  There are small leafless shoots that Rhodo’s put out that don’t cause a problem to the shrub, but I don’t know what their purpose is.  Anybody else know?

Hydrangea’ are another popular shrub that do very well on the North Coast.  Big leaf Hydrangea’ have strong form and brilliant color.  The Deer don’t seem to bother them so that makes them an excellent choice.  Most hydrangea types — pink, blue, or white mopheads and lacecaps, or oakleaf forms — bloom on old wood.  Prune these types of hydrangeas after blooming.  If you prune them in winter or early spring, you’ll be removing flower buds, except to remove damaged or weak stems to make a nicely shaped bush.  Check your variety if it is a newer type, for pruning instructions (which is why it’s a good idea to keep the name tag on shrubs).

With newer blooming types, such as the Endless Summer or Let’s Dance Series, which bloom on new growth as well as old wood, timing of pruning is less critical. Even if you cut off some of the flower buds by pruning the old stems, the plant will bloom on the new growth.

If your shrubs seem to be rather weak-limbed, try cutting out some of the weaker limbs completely, and top dress the shrub with compost lightly raked in.

The newest Botanis catalogue has just come – they list a Hydrangea called Pistachio that is quite striking.  We need one of those in our yard!