February 20, 2012

Spring Cleaning in Your Landscape

Theresa Badurek
Urban Horticulture Extension Agent

Spring is here, and that means it’s time to prune many plants. There are a variety of reasons to prune, but the most important thing is to do it right. Part of that is having good timing. Pruning should be a regular part of your landscape maintenance and should not be put off until the landscape is overgrown. Overgrown plants may grow tall and leggy with little foliage near the ground. Once you wait this long they cannot be pruned to the desired size in a single pruning without severely damaging the plants. These plants will need to be pruned back gradually over a period of several years. So, keeping up with maintenance pruning is step number one.

Cold Damage
You can now prune those woody plants that were damaged by our few nights of freezing or near freezing temperatures. You will want to watch for new leaves sprouting along the branches and prune back to this point. Take care to maintain the natural shape of the plant; when correct pruning is done it should not be noticeable that you did it. You may find that some of your more cold sensitive plants will need to be pruned back to the ground. It will take them a bit longer to recover, but be patient.

Flowering Shrubs and Trees
Once azaleas, poinsettias, and camellias finish flowering they should be pruned. Pruning encourages new growth and produces a more compact, bushier plant. There is still time to prune out dead growth and crossing limbs on crape myrtles, but try not to remove the new sprouts since the flowers will be forming on this year’s new growth. Contrary to what you may have heard, pruning is not necessary for crape myrtles to flower. Simply prune them lightly to maintain a natural form. If necessary, heavy pruning of hibiscus is best done now as well. The new growth should produce flowers in about five to six weeks. Light maintenance pruning may be done any time of year to keep plants at desired heights.

Fruit Trees
One should always remove suckers below the bud or graft union on citrus, avocados, mangos, or any other grafted plant. These shoots will grow fast and rob much needed nutrients and water from the desirable upper portion of the plant and will not produce the desired flowers or fruit.

Only dead fronds should be removed from palms. Palms put on an average of one new frond per month during the growing season, although this varies greatly from one species to the next. The reason for mass removal of healthy green fronds is because it is more convenient for the pruner to remove everything and not have to prune the tree again for 6 to 12 months. It is not healthy for the palm. Constant leaf area removal results in damage and decline and eventual death of the palm from weakening. Do not let anyone talk you into removing more than the dead fronds or you may be contributing to the death of your palm. The “hurricane cut” you hear about for palms will actually make the palm more vulnerable to damage in the event of a hurricane or wind storm.

For More Information
Consult the University of Florida/IFAS Extension publication, Pruning Landscape Trees and Shrubs on the Internet at: for additional detailed pruning information, including techniques, illustrations, and time of year for pruning all kinds of trees and landscape shrubs.

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