Winter is prime time for pruning

Contrary to popular belief, pruning at the wrong time of year rarely kills plants, but continual improper pruning damages and weakens plants.

Do not prune at your convenience but at the time that least harms plants.

In general, prune before new spring growth begins. There are exceptions to this rule, so it is best to know the demands of all your landscape plants.

For example, plants damaged by storms or other means should have broken or dead limbs and branches removed as soon as possible to avoid insect infestation or disease. Also, wait to prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs.

The worst time to prune is just after new spring growth appears. Plants use a lot of the food that is stored in roots and stems to develop new growth. This food must be replaced before pruning away new foliage or the plants’ growth may be stunted.

Pruning is also ill-advised in late summer through early fall as pruning encourages new growth. If the growth does not have sufficient time to “harden off” before cold weather arrives, plants can suffer winter damage or death. Pruning to undertake now includes:

Trim crepe myrtles and other summer-flowering shrubs and vines. Do not “top” crepe myrtles or their natural form will be ruined. Do not remove branches larger in diameter than a pencil on crepe myrtles or on any tree without good reason.

Reshape evergreen shrubs as needed, removing as much as 25 percent if pruning branch by branch with hand tools. Prune spring-blooming shrubs after flowering.

Limb up young shade trees by removing a few lower branches, gradually raising canopies higher from the ground as trees mature.

Remove mistletoe by cutting away infested limbs whenever feasible.

As needed, remove top growth on shrub roses to reduce height. Remove weak, internal and crossing canes. Each cut should be just above an outward facing bud.

Trim groundcovers to remove excess and damaged growth.

Control ungainly nandinas by cutting their tallest canes entirely to the ground. Leave shorter stems intact and the plants will vigorously regrow.

Remove damaged growth, spent blooms and seed pods as needed from spring- and summer-flowering shrubs and vines.

Prune fruit trees before buds swell. On peach and plum trees, remove vertical shoots and maintain bowl-shaped habit. Remove strongly vertical shoots on apple trees.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 or visit