Pruning to Shape Woody Plants

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
February 1, 2002

If you want your landscape shrubs, trees, or fruit plants to develop normal growth, they should be pruned just before the buds swell. If you prefer to retain a smaller size, then, to avoid any bacterial canker, prune them after their spring growth, but before the hot days of summer.

Landscape shrubs and trees may not need any pruning at the time they are planted, but usually should be shaped later. If the lower limbs of trees are allowed to grow, the trees trunks and root systems will be larger and stronger. As the lower limbs become more than one inch thick, they should be pruned off up to about eight feet above the ground. Pruning off large limbs on mature trees can cause the tree to slowly die. Rose bushes should be pruned around the middle of February. Climbing vines should be pruned after flowering.

The pruning method for fruit plants should be decided before the plants are purchased. Several types of support for them may need to be built. The pruning should be started when the plants are set in the orchard. Peach and plum trees should be pruned to the shape of a funnel, V, or Y to produce more and higher quality fruit. To prune peach trees, each year cut off 40 to 60 percent of the growth to keep the trees vigorous and productive. Apple and pear trees may be pruned to a central leader or to a trellis. The mature apple, peach, pear, plum trees, and grape vines should be pruned during January or early February. Producing blackberry canes should be pruned at ground level soon after harvest.

Prepare the Seedbed

If the garden soil is friable, the spring crops of flowers and vegetables may be planted using a no-till method. If the soil is too firm, a garden fork may be used to prepare a small area and not cause much damage to earthworms. If the garden soil needs amendments, this is the time to apply fertilizers, organic matter, etc. Power tillers will mix them into the soil better than hand tools. Tillers with counter-rotating tines will mix the soil the best, or pull a mini-tiller backwards.

Cool-season flower plants should be set so that they will develop blooms before the heat of summer matures them.

Early vegetable crops that can be planted in the garden now are asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, onions, edible pod peas, English peas, radish, spinach and turnips. If you have heat and light for starting plants, warm-season crops like tomato and pepper should be planted.

The last freeze could be extremely early this year. The average date for the last freeze is about March 5, but the latest recorded freeze in this area was April 13. Gardeners can protect their plants, but they cant control the weather.

Some early signs of spring have appeared in the form of new leaves on rose bushes, blooms on flowering almond, and flowering quince shrubs, etc.

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.