Sharpen the Shears – It’s Pruning Time!
Cutting back plants sets stage for healthy spring growth
Even as leaves begin to fall and the temperature follows, the window opens for homeowners in southeastern Wisconsin to prepare their landscapes for a burst of new growth next year.
Fall is prime time to prune back plants and trees. Smart pruning on plantings set the stage for spring rejuvenation, said Todd Ruedt, owner of Grounds Maintenance Services, Brookfield. While pruning should normally wait until after the first frost, conditions this year allow homeowners to start sharpening their shears early.
"A lot of plants have already set their buds for next year because of the drought conditions we've had." Ruedt said. "This means they're ready to be pruned back." Pruning should be done carefully no matter the plant, but different guidelines apply for deciduous and evergreen species.
Deciduous plants – those with leaves – can usually be cut back by 50 to 75 percent, Ruedt said. The key is to prune above new buds that will turn into leaves or flowers in spring.
"If that 3-foot shrub by the front door is now 6 feet, this is the time to cut it back," he said. "Take your time doing so, and be sure to leave some type of bud or branch material to open next year."
Evergreens grow year-round, so require different pruning strategy. Less is more. Some greenery should be retained, Ruedt said. Branches cut back to the trunk will not regrow. Pruning finished by October's end allows enough time for the plant to heal before winter, he added.
If unsure how much to cut back a specific plant, homeowners should do some research or consult a professional, Ruedt said. The term "too much of a good thing" can apply to pruning.
Tree pruning should wait until after Oct. 15 to allow dormancy to set in, Ruedt said. Winter is actually the best time to prune deciduous plants if they are accessible, he noted.
Homeowners should be sure their tools are clean and sharp to avoid ragged cutting edges. In addition, pruning sprays - sometimes called "pruning paint" – are best left in the garage. These sprays fill tree pores with chemicals and retard healing, Ruedt said.
"Fall pruning helps plants conserve their energy and prepare for winter," he said. "Done properly, homeowners will witness a rebirth of new growth in the spring. Nature rarely lets us down."
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