From the Vine – Winter Pruning

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If your pruning shears and loppers haven’t been sharpened in a while, now is a great time to get this task done because pruning season begins in February. Many landscape plants should be pruned in February including fruit trees, grapevines, crape myrtle, ornamental grasses, boxwoods, hollies, camellia, evergreens and more. You can download a detailed pruning calendar for Sampson County here Sampson County Pruning Calendar.

Pruning makes plants more eye appealing, corrects potential problems, keeps plants healthy and strong, and encourages more blooms and fruit. Tools used for pruning include bypass shears, loppers, and handsaws. Ensure tools are sharp and in proper operating condition before making your first pruning cut to avoid damaging the plant. Spray your tools with Lysol disinfectant spray after pruning each plant to keep from spreading disease. If you suspect you have fireblight in your fruit trees, spray pruning tools with Lysol after each individual cut to prevent disease spread from limb to limb.

There are four basic pruning cuts, each targeting a different desired effect.

  1. Pinching is a “cut” made by pinching off the terminal bud from growth with your fingers. Pinching is a pruning technique typically used on herbaceous flowers and vegetables to encourage bushing. By pinching off the terminal bud, the branch, limb, or stem cannot elongate and will begin to bush out. This pruning technique may also be used on small or dwarf shrubbery to achieve a more symmetrical shaped plant.
  2. Heading is a pruning cut made by removing only the terminal portion of a branch 6-12 inches from the terminal bud. By removing the terminal portion of a branch, you are encouraging growth from buds below the pruning point. This is a typical cut used to shape shrubbery or to stiffen the branch of fruit trees, allowing it to maintain more fruit.
  3. Thinning is a pruning cut made by removing an entire branch at its point of origin on the main stem at the joint. A thinning cut is used to remove crossing branches, or to maintain the natural shape of a tree. When making a thinning cut, ensure that you make the cut slightly above the collar of the branch to ensure the wound will heal properly.
  4. A bench cut removes vigorous or upright growing limbs in the center of the tree that is similar to the same size the limb is growing on. Use a bench cut to open the center of the tree to allow more sunlight to penetrate the canopy. Bench cuts should only be made on trees that have been neglected for a period of time.

Never use a pinching or heading cut on apple or pear trees as their fruit grows near the terminal bud. Crape myrtles should never be pruned similar to a “flat-top” haircut. Instead, you should remove root suckers, water sprouts, and crossing branches using a thinning cut. Consider the crape myrtles natural vase shape and remove branches growing outside this form.

For more information on pruning fruit trees, you can download the publication training and pruning fruit trees at Training and Pruning Fruit Trees in North Carolina.

For information on pruning crape myrtles visit What is the Proper Way to Prune Crape Myrtles.

If you are interested in taking horticultural related classes, the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Sampson County will be offering the Sampson County Friends of Horticulture in 2020. Instructional classes will be held monthly on the third Thursday of the month at 10 a.m. at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Sampson County Center Livestock Facility, 93 Agriculture Place, Clinton NC 28328. Registration is $5 per class or $20 for a yearly membership. This program is geared toward Sampson County residents with horticulture interests and will offer monthly topics such as growing pecans in NC, lawn/turf management, planting, and growing vegetables, soil testing, landscape plants, growing strawberries, and other horticulture-related topics. For more information on this program visit the Sampson County website or call (910) 592-7161.