All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A
by Pernell Gerver

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"Pruning Simplified: What, When, & How"

For many, the subject of pruning is a mystery. Many plants throughout the garden and home landscape benefit from proper pruning, but knowing what to prune, when to prune, and how to prune is the key to success. For ornamentals whether trees, shrubs, evergreens, vines, roses, foundation plantings, or hedges or fruit-bearing plants like berries and fruit trees, there is a right time to prune each.

Here in western Massachusetts, there are many plants that should be pruned at this time of year, but there are also many that should be pruned at other times of the year - it all depends on the specific plant. Some trees are pruned now while dormant, but some shrubs are pruned in early spring while others should be pruned only after blooming. It all has to do with the growth habit of the particular shrub and whether or not it blooms on old wood or new wood.

There are many reasons for pruning. Pruning methods can maintain a desired size and shape, improve appearance in the landscape, develop good structure, get a new or transplanted plant off to a good start, increase quality and yields of flowers and fruits, keep plants healthy, train a plant into a desired form, or rejuvenate old specimens.

Shrubs and foundation plantings that have outgrown their location may be encroaching on walkways, doorways, and even covering up windows. Pruning to maintain their size and shape will keep them in bounds.Prune for a healthy plant

Overgrown shrubs in the garden or landscape can be unsightly and out of proportion with surrounding plantings and buildings. Pruning helps improve their appearance in the landscape and the appearance of the home.

Developing good plant structure begins while the plant is still young. This is especially important for fruit trees to allow sunlight and air circulation into inner branches. Good structure also helps support a heavy fruit load. For other trees a strong structure prevents damage from winter storms.

Newly planted or transplanted trees are pruned to compensate for the loss of roots when the roots are dug out or disturbed. If there is too much leafy growth on top the roots can't support it and the tree wilts.

Blooming and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs should be pruned to increase the quality and yields of flowers and fruits. Thinning out extra branches from the tree or shrub will result in bigger flowers and larger fruit.

Pruning helps keep plants healthy. Dead, broken, diseased, or crossing branches, water sprouts, and suckers all adversely affect the overall health of the plant. Dead, broken, or diseased branches should be removed to prevent disease from entering the tree or shrub. Crossing branches rub, causing wounds to both branches. Water sprouts are vertical growths that grow perpendicular to the horizontal branches. They do not produce fruit and should be removed. Suckers crowd the tree or shrub. They often arise from a grafted rootstock which is often a different variety and when the suckers start to grow, they will not be the same desired plant.

Pruning is also done to train a plant into a desired form or shape. Decorative pruning and training methods include espalier, topiary, and pollarding.

Older trees and shrubs can be given a new lease on life with pruning. Some plants respond to drastic pruning well, but others don't. Old lilacs that are no longer blooming well benefit greatly from drastic pruning. Choose several younger trunks to leave which will become the new plant. Cut down to the ground all sucker growth as well as older stems that are not blooming well. This drastic pruning will rejuvenate the old plant and it will bloom well once again.

When it comes to pruning, the right tools and equipment can make a big difference. My favorite pruning shears are a pair of ratchet-cut pruners. What I like about the pruners is how easy and comfortable they are to use. The ratchet action works like a car jack and allows anyone regardless of hand strength to easily cut through stems and branches. I use them for all sorts of pruning tasks from deadheading flowers to trimming trees, shrubs, and roses.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Forced Pots of Bulbs Can Be Planted Outdoors"

Q. Every spring there are many types of bulbs in pots for everyone to buy. Please tell me how and when to plant these bulbs in the ground. I really don't have much luck - they just don't bloom again. Thanks for any help you can give.

A. Potted bulbs available in stores in early spring are a reminder that spring is on its way. All kinds of bulbs including tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus, and Dutch iris are in bloom now in pots.

When you buy or are given a pot of forced spring bulbs, display it in an area that gets plenty of sunshine. Blooms will last longest in cool temperatures. Enjoy the colorful blooms, then remove them once they've faded. Don't cut away the foliage. The plants need it to return energy to the bulb. Treat the pot of bulbs just like bulbs growing in the garden. Water as needed and keep it in a sunny window. The foliage will begin to yellow and wither, but don't remove it. Wait until it has completely dried before cutting it away.

Pots of forced bulbs can be planted outdoors in the garden as soon as the soil can be worked. Choose a spot that receives full sun in rich, well-drained soil. Dig a hole to the appropriate depth for the bulbs to be planted - eight inches deep for tulips and daffodils, six inches deep for hyacinths, three inches deep for crocus and Dutch iris. Loosen the soil in the bottom of the planting hole and mix in a Electra Bulb Food. This is a good slow-release organic fertilizer which encourages flowering. Plant the bulbs and replace the soil. Mark the location and water and fertilize throughout the season.

Forced bulbs that have been planted outdoors often don't flower the following year. They may take a season or two to build up the energy to reflower, so don't expect flowers the first year.

Instead of planting the bulbs in my garden last year, I left them in their pots throughout summer. I wanted to see if they could be forced into bloom a second time. They were watere