The Garden Corner

The Garden Corner by Sharon Allen Tree and Shrub Maintenance

Now is a good time to prune trees and shrubs, since they are still dormant. Once the buds start to expand, then it is time to put away the pruners. Pruning is necessary if the value and quality of trees and shrubs in the landscape are to be maintained.

Pruning objectives include:

* removing dead, diseased or injured branches

* improving the form, shape or size of trees and shrubs

* rejuvenating older plants

* improving safety or convenience factors

"Tree pruning should take place in the first 10 years of a tree's life," according to John Ball, an arborist at South Dakota State University.

He adds, "Don't prune any tree unless you know what kind of tree it is and what it should look like when it's mature."

Other pruning tips include:

* Prune spring blooming shrubs after they flower. Summer blooming shrubs may be pruned now.

* Always make pruning cuts just beyond a side branch or bud.

* Evergreens can be pruned in early spring or early summer.

* Do not prune branches in the middle or leave stubbed ends.

* DO NOT use pruning paint.

* Never cut a tree flat across the top.

Bits and Pieces

March is a good time to remove flowers from the poinsettias that you may be hoping to bring back into bloom next winter. Cut the stems back to 6 inches.

The best thing that can be done for our lawns at this time is to stay off them until they are totally dry. The first mowing should be as soon as possible after growth has started. Lower the cutting height to about 1 1/2 inches (raise the height for subsequent mowings and again during the heat of the summer) and catch or remove all the clippings. This will expose the plants to sunlight, air, and warmth for early growth.

Begin applying a dilute fertilizer to house plants. "Tidy" plants by taking cuttings to root.

It is a good time to start plants from seeds, especially if you have additional fluorescent lighting or window space. Tomatoes may get a bit tall and lanky, but you can just plant them deeper in the ground. Other plants can be cut back, making them stockier and healthier in the long run.

Pamphlets describing lawn care and tree pruning more thoroughly are available at no charge at the Clay County Extension Office.

Written by Master Gardener Sharon Allen. For answers to gardening problems, write to Sharon Allen at 110 North Plum Street, Vermillion, SD 57069, or e-mail her at

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