The days after snow and ice have damaged plants, it is good to assess the situation.
Here is how I recommend doing your assessment: Plant triage!
- Obviously, if a tree has partially fallen or has completely crashed and damaged your house and or property, you need to have it taken care of immediately! Call your insurance agent first and next hire a licensed, insured and bonded arborist to take care of it.
- If a tree has come down and is blocking your driveway and has not actually damaged anything, and you cannot get an arborist to take care of it, you should cut it out of the way, and chop it up, or give Winterbloom a call to do it for you.
- If a bush is leaning over a path or the driveway so that you cannot get by, you may prune it, but be judicious about it. You can cut back inside farther on the thicker branches. Be more cautious with the smaller branches.
- If bushes are leaning over, or hanging in different directions from the snow and ice damage, and are not in the way of anything, please refrain from pruning them and wait to see how they will bud out in the spring. This is especially important if it is a spring bloomer such as rhododendron or camellia. You will want to do some aesthetic and/or corrective pruning after it blooms. If you are uncomfortable in doing this, call Winterbloom and we can come out and help you.
- If you see some smaller bushes or perennials which are questionable in health or are damaged due to the ice and snow, do not prune them yet, but wait to see how they bud out, and at that time determine how much you should cut them back. An example of this is the fuchsia. In mild winters, they can rebud up on the stem and you will have a large full plant. Leaving them taller and waiting to cut them back until they bud out, will help you to plan how big of a plant that you want in that space. In cold winters, fuchsias may often come up only from the base of the plant and then also emerge later than usual. If you cut it back too far in anticipation of this, you may inadvertently damage the buds at the bottom or on the stem or you might forget that it was there if you cut it too short and think it a weed in the spring when it does decide to emerge!
- Many perennials that are dormant in the winter and look ugly anyway, should be cut down to two inches tall. This can be done anytime that you do not have snow on the ground, so that you can see what you are doing, and not stomp all over the adjacent plants while you are pruning. Only prune when there is snow on the ground if it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, either wait till the snow is gone or wait till you see buds and know what you need to do.
Take a serious look out your windows at your back yard landscape. What do you see? Are the perennials all shriveled and black looking? Are some bushes falling over on top of others?
When you drive into your driveway, what does the front yard and entry-way look like? Is there dead and brown-looking foliage? Are there bushes trying to obscure your windows or push you off the front walkway or sidewalk?
If you imagine tackling all of this in one day, you may feel overwhelmed. However, nothing much is going to grow out there until around March and even then, just a few things will be pushing buds.
So, start with what you see when you drive in the driveway and tackle a section of that when you have a block of time. Then do the other half the next opportunity. When the front is completed, tackle the back yard. Do all of this pruning a section at a time until it is done. Lastly, take on all of those plants that may need attention that you don’t see out your windows. By the time that you do all of this, it will be March and you will have accomplished your tasks!
Here is how you can do this.
- Cut back the perennials that are brown and ugly and leave about one inch of stem. I simply chop the foliage into two inch pieces and leave them lying on the ground, but you may want to haul them off to the recycle bin.
- Prune and thin the late season shrubs like Hydrangea and Crape Myrtle.
- Avoid early spring bloomers like Flowering Quince, Lilac, Forsythia and Daphne, as you will be cutting off their bloom buds, which you are looking forward to seeing! Wait to prune them until right after they bloom and then you will be fitting into their life cycle.
- Remember to wait on roses till February around President’s Day. If the roses are tall right now and the wind is catching them, cut them back about a 1/3, but in general, roses need to be as dormant as possible for serious pruning.
- Do not shear any of your plants unless they have tiny leaves and you want a hedge type of look. (Shears are like big scissors). Normally one will prune everything with hand clippers or loppers.
- If you have big overgrown plants which need rejuvenating, this is the time of the year to do that. (Rejuvenating means cutting back hard with a saw or loppers, so that new growth can occur in the spring). Please note that:
- If you do it now, you will be looking at the brown stumps till spring, so you may want to take care of this project in March.
- If you find that you need to regularly cut a plant back this hard, it is probably not located in the right place and should be removed. A new plant or plants should be chosen to take its place, which would be more suitable and manageable.
Approaching your pruning in this fashion at the beginning of January about guarantees that it will all be done by March!
We’re deep into the holiday season and no one seems to have the time to cut back the perennials, grasses or overgrown bushes while neatening up the beds. Of course, the heavy rains we’ve been having also contribute to our disinclination!
Our front yard, which is visible to us as we drive in, as well as to all our guests, needs to look trimmed and tidy for the Holiday season. That is a given. However, we have learned a trick to get through this time of year: We don’t stress about the entire rest of the yard, which cannot really be seen from inside, if at all.
After the first of the year, I take a hard look at the rest of the yard space. I imagine how many weekends I have ahead of me in order to tackle the work before February 15th. That magical date is the beginning of landscapers’ spring in western Oregon; when many sleepy tender perennials and bulbs are just tentatively extending buds out into the world. It is paramount that we trim and clean before they begin their quest. This gives us about 6 weekends!
I divide the yard up into these weekend chunks, tackling a section/weekend until it has all been completed. Doing it this way, I can usually get what needs to be done in a four-hour block of time each weekend, leaving the rest for other activities.
There is always an emotional letdown after the holidays and this task fills a portion of each weekend, allowing me to retrench and to reload emotionally. It is exercise for which I do not have to pay, without holiday advertisements or digital overloads. it is out in the fresh air and rain. All of these are excellent for my state of mind as I launch into the New Year!
Let’s talk about pruning, which is accomplished with two main methods:
- Shearing with a pair of shears. This is normally used with plants that need to be shaped on the outside to some form like a hedge or a topiary. It is best done with plants that have small leaves or tiny foliage to really look good. Pruning in this fashion causes a plant to thicken up and have many points of growth. Lavender, heather, boxwood and sometimes evergreen azaleas are common examples of plants that respond well to this method of pruning. Used indiscriminately, however, this can create the lollipop and gumdrop look that some people like and most people hate.
- Trimming, or selectively or thinning. This type of pruning is accomplished with clippers for smaller branches, loppers for thicker branches or a saw for the biggest branches. Trimming’s main function is to select out a branch or a twig and remove it to create more internal space. The best miniature example would be a Bonsai plant. Others that can really look good with this kind of pruning are upright Japanese maples, rhododendron (but not until it is finished blooming in the spring), or a vine maple. Trimming is pruning from the inside out. Most plants would look their best using this method. Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you, however, and avoid pruning spring blooming plants, such as Rhodies or azaleas during the fall. If you cut off the buds now, you won’t have any glorious blooms come next spring.
In late fall, your pruning efforts should be spent on perennials that have just finished blooming, and certain types of shrubs, such as mop head hydrangeas. Clear away the brown foliage and any seed pods (think, Echinacea, or cone flowers), if the birds haven’t already done that for you.
Here’s how I shear my lavender this time of year: