February is for Pruning!

My husband’s motto could be ‘have chain saw, will prune.’ We’ve had discussions about pruning – when to prune, how to prune, how much to prune – for years. Now that I’ve gone through the Master Gardener classes, I can speak about pruning with some authority instead of what I used to say.

I used to say, “here’s how my mother did it.” Somehow, my mom’s approach never had as much oomph as the experts from Kansas State Extension!

This year when February rolled around, I reminded Jim that we had some pruning chores. The first – and to my mind foremost – was to take 30 percent off the silver maple near our driveway. This silver maple was one of six that we bought for $5 each a few years back. The other five trees died. This one shot up like some kind of tree champ!

The problem? Last summer, the top third of the tree didn’t leaf out. The bark started to fall off. To my mind, another tree cremation was just around the corner. But the bottom two-thirds of the tree has buds, so somehow this tree keeps on keeping on.

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Here is the pruned silver maple.

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And here is the cut – a major operation as you can see! This particular branch had twisted around the branch next to it, and its top half was dead. Maybe removing the stressed branch will help. Time will tell.

Our next task was a year-old apple tree with three leaders. We picked one, closed our eyes – figuratively – and cut off two. Again, wait and see!

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Next we tackled the unsightly but thriving crab apple bush. Originally planted as a tree, suckers took over and turned a swan into an ugly duckling. We had so much trouble mowing around this critter – as did our next door neighbor – that we considered removing it altogether. Instead, we cut back much of the twisty, gnarled, and overhanging branches. The rule of thumb – this is my Master Gardener training talking now – is to prune no more than 30 percent of the tree. I think we cut back more like 60 percent. Up close, you can see it looks hacked.

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From a distance, though, it looks pretty good. Will it survive the hack job? Again, time will tell…

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Last but not least, my much loved Acer Bloodgood! I never expect a Japanese maple to survive in Kansas – I’ve planted several and they’ve all died. This one was planted in our courtyard off the bedroom and takes shelter behind a lattice fence. Now about fourteen feet, several branches hit the house. Jim threatened surgery all last summer, claiming that the branches would get into the gutters and ruin the roof.

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I wanted to wait until spring to prune, having learned that you prune a tree in February when it’s dormant to encourage growth and in the spring when it starts to leaf out to retard growth. But we had all the equipment to hand and so now was the time. After some discussion, we pruned a very conservative three branches. Just enough.

Kansas State Research and Extension offers a Horticultural Newsletter. The February issue includes information on pruning this time of year.

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9 thoughts on “February is for Pruning!

  1. I am part of the ‘brutal pruning’ club…but still about 2 1/2 months away from being ready to prune…but it was a scorching 58 degrees here on the frozen tundra today so life seems pretty good to me!!

  2. When does spring come in your area? It is a bit shocking to see you have no snow. We have a couple of inches on the ground. We would expect about a foot of snow cover. All the snow storms have been missing us this winter.

    • We’ve had about 4 inches of snow this year – and that’s the official for Kansas City, some 40 miles north of us. We’ve probably had a lot less. Our last frost date can be as early as the end of February and as late as mid-May. Depends on the year. All the ‘bad’ weather has missed us this year…

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