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General Info

January 30, 2016

QuestionMy husband is eager to prune our crape myrtles and our fig trees.  I think you said to wait until February to do this. Please advise.



Since we finally have had some winter weather, I think it is important to wait until late February before pruning, especially to prune your fig tree. If you prune it too early, you expose more of the plant to potential damage.  The past two winters have not been kind to fig trees, and I would make sure they are out of the woods from winter weather before pruning.  I don’t think it is a bad idea to even wait until March, depending on what the rest of the winter brings.  I have seen many crape myrtles already butchered, and even when pruned properly you still have a more unattractive plant when pruned than when it is full of limbs.  Early pruning does expose more of the plant to winter injury should we get any severe weather, so tell him to be patient.


January 2013

QuestionOur Granddaddy Grey Beard has been damaged by the snow and ice. Should we cut it all back so it will reshape evenly or just trim the broken limbs?


AnswerFor now, I would cut out all broken branches and make the plant more stable. In the spring after it blooms, do the rest of the shaping.

January 2013

QuestionOh, help! Now that the ice and snow are gone, is there anything we can do to save the evergreens that are leaning due to the heavy weight of the ice and snow? I have several laurels that supply shade on the west side of the house and I need to save them if at all possible.


AnswerBy now, many of the plants have up righted themselves at least partially. If yours are still leaning you can stake them, but do check to make sure any broken branches are pruned out. Make sure that when you stake them, you don’t bind them too tightly. You need to leave some wiggle room to strengthen the stems. If they are bound tightly and can’t move at all, you end up with a weaker plant once you remove the stake. We may need to do some additional corrective pruning this spring.

December 2012

QuestionIn the spring of 2010 I planted four Bradford pear trees. They are growing straight up; they don’t seem to be spreading out like I thought they should. Should I cut the tops out of them? If so, when should I do this?


AnswerTopping a tree is a practice that should NEVER be done to a tree you want to keep long-term. When you remove the entire top crown of a tree, you create internal decay in the tree. It will eventually put out more branches and look like a tree, but the damage done internally will last for a lifetime and makes the tree structurally unsound. However, you can remove certain branches and take the top buds off of each branch you leave, without removing the crown, and this will encourage branching. The top bud on each branch has dominance, and left unchecked, will grow straight and taller. Removing the top bud (or even going lower on a branch) will encourage lower buds to grow, which should start to give your tree a fuller top. Pruning done correctly will give you a fuller and healthier tree. Keep in mind that many ornamental pear varieties, particularly Bradford are very susceptible to storm damage, and they often have too many branches which cause them to resemble a lollipop on a stick and they break easily.

November 2012

QuestionSomeone told me last week that if you top a sweetgum tree it won't produce gumballs for 4 or 5 years. Is this true? I have a huge sweetgum tree in the backyard that my wife loves for the shade it produces, but I hate the gumballs I have to deal with all year long. I want to cut it down, but if topping it will stunt the gumballs, I'm willing to try that.


AnswerNot true, and very, very bad for the tree to be topped. Topping a tree leads to a hollow, unsafe tree so should never be done. Sweetgum balls can be a nuisance, but the fall color and the overall shade make it worthwhile. If you grow hostas, the sweetgum balls make a great mulch to keep slugs away, and if neighborhood cats use your garden as a litter box, sweetgum mulch keeps them away. I am still surprised that some enterprising gardener hasn’t bagged the stuff and sold it for either or both uses. Maybe you have a new cottage industry in your yard.

August 2012

QuestionI have two Compacta holly bushes on each side of the steps leading up to our front door. They have been there for 14 years, so they are well established as are the shrubs around them. They are almost square at about 3'x3'x3' Over the last 2-3 years they have become sparse of leaves at the bottom and sides. Is there anything I can do to restore them? I know it will be difficult to replace them.


AnswerWhen evergreens are pruned into hedges, whether they are tall or short, the top of the plant should have a slightly narrower profile than the bottom. If the top is the same size or larger, it shades out the base of the plants and they begin to lose leaves. In late February to mid March next spring, cut them back hard—possibly to 1 ½ - 2 feet and lightly fertilize. They should get the burst of new growth and fill back in, hopefully having foliage throughout the plant. Instead of pruning them into future squares, let them have a more natural shape, but keep the tops narrower.

August 2012

QuestionWe have a very unruly forsythia bush that is about 30 years old and anchors the planting at the end of our front porch. Is it okay to prune it now or in the fall when it drops its leaves? It really needs a good shaping but we want to have flowers next spring also.


AnswerFlower buds are set on your forsythia for next spring. If you prune now, you will lose flowers. The best time to prune is immediately after bloom next spring. Take out 1/3 – ½ of the older, woodier canes right at the soil line. This should rejuvenate the plant and reduce the size.

August 2012

QuestionI have a lilac bush that does not get full sun, but it does bloom occasionally. It is getting fairly large. When should I prune it?


AnswerLilac plants set their flower buds in late summer to early fall and bloom in the spring. They should only be pruned as needed, immediately after bloom in the spring. It is way too late to prune them this year. Many of our plants had an expedited spring and have already set their flower buds for next year. Pruning now would definitely impact the bloom ability of this plant. For now, just keep it watered and do any needed pruning next year as soon as the flowers fade.

July 2012

QuestionI have a ten year old hydrangea that I have never pruned. It used to bloom beautifully at the top, but this year, most of the blooms were at the bottom. When should I prune and how? Do I need to cut off the old flowers as they fade?


AnswerIf you are planning on pruning your hydrangea, you need to do it soon. Hydrangeas bloom in the summer, but turn around and set flower buds for next year in the late summer or early fall. Remove up to one third of the older canes at the soil line—this should reduce the size, but still leave plenty of growth for blooms for next year. As to removing the spent flowers, that is a personal preference. Some gardeners like the look of the dried flowers, while others think it looks bad. Do continue to water, since hydrangeas are not drought tolerant plants.

June 2012

QuestionI live in Bella Vista, Arkansas and I have a question about my hydrangeas. They were absolutely huge and loaded with blue flowers this year — I use coffee grounds on all my acid loving plants and they thrive. This year I had about 60-75 flowers and we got a big rain. All the flower heads were bowed over. Now I have a lot of bent branches. I know they set their flower buds on last year’s growth, so if I prune all the bent branches, I probably won’t have any flowers next year. I would have to cut about two feet off of each branch to get to straight limbs. Any suggestions on what to do?


AnswerActually, the time to prune hydrangeas is immediately after they bloom. Instead of just cutting two feet off, try thinning the plants out and remove up to 1/3 of the limbs at the soil line. Cutting hydrangeas at the tops of the stems will encourage branching. Each branch on the stalk can produce the large flower heads which can make them top-heavy and not able to support the blooms. Pruning now will allow the plant to recover and you should still have flower buds set this fall for a bloom for next summer. Hard, cold winters often take a toll in the NW part of our state, but our lack of winter this year has given us quite the hydrangea show this year.

May 2012

QuestionWhat should I do for my clumps of pampas grass? Cut back in early March, close to the ground, but with a little higher mound in the centers....the centers have not started growing...we cleaned out the old debris when cutting back. They are 4-5 years old. We must be doing something wrong...should they have been cut flat to the ground? Any help you can give me will be appreciated.


AnswerIf you missed a few years in the past cutting it back, the old growth can die back to the crown and cause the center of the plant to rot. Unfortunately, you need to dig up the plant at that point and throw away the dead crown or you have a green donut in the landscape, and it won’t set any plumes—the main reason people are planting it. I think it is easier to simply plant a new one or a different ornamental grass. Rarely can you cut pampas grass level with the ground, usually 12-18 inches is about the lowest you can get it.

September 2011

QuestionYear before last I had a beautiful bed of hosta. It was in the shade of a large persimmon tree. We had a storm and had to cut the persimmon tree down, that left the hosta bed in the sun. The hosta bed is on the south side of my house. I have planted a mimosa tree in place of the persimmon tree. The mimosa is doing well, except for one problem. It has one very tall branch and one short one close to the bottom of the tree. Do I need to cut the top out of the Mimosa or will it finally branch on its own?


AnswerYou are probably going to have to provide some assistance. Prune it to a strong bud and it should branch out. Do so in late February to early April to catch the resurgence of new growth next spring. I know that many folks like mimosas, but they are not my favorite tree. They tend to be fairly weak and are susceptible to a wilt disease which causes an early death. Probably more information than you wanted since it is already planted in your yard. Watch your trees growth each year and gradually train it into the shape and size you desire. Wherever you prune, you should encourage branching. It may take a few years to get the desired shape.

April 2012

QuestionWhen to prune.


AnswerIt has been a gorgeous, albeit early spring this year in Arkansas. Many early spring blooming plants are finished blooming and beginning to put on new growth. Now is the time to prune them if needed. Remember that before you grab your pruning shears, you need to answer three questions, why am I pruning, when should I prune and how should the plant be pruned. Some plants require annual pruning, while others may never need to be pruned. Plants that bloom in the spring should be pruned as soon after flowering as possible to allow plenty of recovery time before they start setting flower buds in the late summer/early fall. You have until mid June to get it done, but the sooner, the better in my opinion. Forsythia is a cane producing plant. What that means, is that it doesn’t have a dominant trunk, but multiple trunks or canes. To prune it properly you should remove up to 1/3 of the older canes right at the soil line every year after bloom. This will encourage new vigorous canes to grow, giving you the living fountain look and plenty of flowers next spring. If your azaleas are too large and need to be pruned, do so when they finish flowering. Azaleas do have a dominant trunk, so we do selective thinning when pruning them. Many folks make the pruning job easier and use electric hedge trimmers and create all these meatballs in the landscape. When that is done, the end results aren’t as pleasing. When pruned at the exact point on each plant, all new growth will be on the edges, as will all the flowers. If you can, selectively thin at staggering heights throughout the bushes. This will give you a more full, natural look and more flowers next spring.

April 2012

QuestionI have a Harry Lauder Walking Stick Tree that is approx. 15 years old. It started putting up suckers and I have continued to remove them. The suckers keep returning, more each year and larger. I am thinking about cutting it down at this point unless there is a solution to eliminate the problem since it is getting more difficult to cut off the suckers. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


AnswerMost Harry Lauder Walking Sticks or contorted filberts are grafted onto a common filbert rootstock, so suckering is a common complaint. Other than pruning, there isn’t much you can do about them. I love the look of the twisted, gnarled branches, so I would continue to prune out suckers. If you really can’t take it, they do now sell Harry Lauder Walking Sticks that are not grafted, but grown on their own root stocks, and they will not sucker.

March 2012

QuestionI have some hydrangea bushes that are 5-6 years old that have never bloomed!! Unknowingly I cut them down the first year thinking that was what you did with the “sticks” that were left but after I was told NOT to do that I haven’t done it since. They set buds on the old stems like they are supposed to but even with fertilizing, they never set one bloom! Is there ever a time when you DO cut back the old stems or do you just leave them to continue to grow and grow from year to year? And what suggestions do you have which might help them to bloom?


AnswerMany people make the same mistake, since hydrangeas do look like dead sticks all winter. Thus far, they have made it through the winter this year unscathed! The top buds on those “dead sticks” are the largest flowers in the summer, so if Mother Nature freezes them back, and all your new growth begins at the base, we won’t have blooms, which was very common last year. Remember, they do need some sunlight to set flowers—so if yours are in total shade, that could be limiting flowering too. Have a reason to prune—too large, etc. If your plant does need to be pruned to maintain size, do so as the flowers start to fade in mid-summer. Just like the above forsythia, hydrangeas are cane producing plants, so remove older, larger canes at the soil line to encourage new canes and reduce size.

March 2012

QuestionWe have three large forsythia bushes that bloomed spectacularly up until about 5 years ago. Two of them are in full sun and one is at the north edge of light woods. The oldest shrub is over 20 years old and we cut it way back about 3 years ago because it failed to bloom except for a few blossoms on the tips of the branches. It's never really bloomed well since although it regained its original size in 2 years! These shrubs have some kind of knotty gall-type growths on the branches. Many of our neighbors have absolute thickets of well-blooming forsythia so I can't believe it's because we haven't pruned our shrubs. We cut the oldest bush down to the ground this week (it had grown up around a martin house) and hope it will come back and bloom for us. Can you give me any advice on what may be wrong?


AnswerI think you have two problems-one is that you aren’t pruning correctly, and two, I think you have a disease known as Phomopsis galls. Gall symptoms on forsythia are brown clusters which encircle the stem which vary in size from ¼ to more than an inch in diameter. The galls are often clustered along the stem, eventually causing twig dieback. Control consists of pruning out the galls and disposing of them. Chemicals are mostly ineffective. Severely infected plants should be cut to the ground. Remember that forsythia is a cane producing plant—it doesn’t have a dominant trunk. For now prune out all branches that have galls, at the soil line. In future years if they don’t have galls, remove 1/3 of the older, woodier canes at the soil line every year after bloom. This rejuvenates the plants and encourages new growth which will have more blooms. I do think the older plant that has been cut down, should start to grow again, and hopefully will be spectacular next spring, provided no new galls occur. The more sunlight, the better they bloom too. If the only pruning that is done is cutting the plant at the top to make a large ball or box, all you are doing is leaving older canes which will bear flowers only on the tips where the new growth occurs.

March 2012

QuestionMy pampas grass is still green. Usually, I cut it down to a mound about 4 or 5 inches high. Should I do the same this year even though it is not brown and dead looking.


AnswerYou aren’t alone. Our mild winter has most pampas grass staying at least half green. However, to make way for the new growth, I would still cut back the old. Pull back the old growth to see how tall the new growth is, and cut above that. You don’t have 100% green, but it is much greener than normal.

January 2012

QuestionWinter Gardening


AnswerIn the winter months plants go dormant, similar to bears hibernating for the winter. Evergreen plants retain most of their leaves, but they basically shut down their systems for the winter. You will see no new growth, but moisture is in the plant to buffer the leaves from freezing temperatures. When frozen, you may see some evergreens that look wilted or deformed. This is especially noticeable on larger leaved plants like aucuba or gold dust plant and winter annuals like pansies. As soon as they thaw out, the leaves return to their normal shapes. When frozen, leaves are brittle, so you should try to avoid much contact with frozen plants, or leaves or branches can snap off causing permanent damage. Evergreen plants can be more susceptible to ice and snow damage, because of the added weight of the winter precipitation on the foliage. Deciduous plants are those that lose their leaves in the fall or early winter. Bare branches can shed precipitation more easily than those with leaves or needles. You have all seen pine trees bending low with a heavy coat of snow or ice. If you have landscape plants that you can easily reach, lightening the load of snow with a broom or rake can help, but don’t touch the plants if they are covered in ice. When shifting snow, use a gentle motion from the underside of the plant. If it is snowing, chances are temperatures are below freezing, so you want to avoid damaging the plants trying to reduce snow weight. If you do experience winter damage, don’t be too quick to prune. Broken limbs or branches should be cleaned up as soon as you notice them, but burned foliage can actually serve as added protection. Wait until spring to see where new growth begins before pruning.

January 2012

QuestionMy Bradford pear tree top branches are beginning to spread open and it is losing the shape it should be. Should I have it trimmed to help it? Any suggestions?


AnswerJust as in humans, with age comes a little spread in the ornamental pears. They tend to lose their perfect tear-drop shape. You can do some thinning of the branches, but do not limb it up excessively nor top it. Lightening the load can prevent some of the spread.

January 2012

QuestionI have several Crape Myrtles from three to six feet tall. They all froze last winter. I cut them down to the ground, as instructed by our local nursery owner, and they came back beautifully in the spring and produced beautiful flowers that lasted a long time in the late summer, with several different periods of bloom. When is the best time of year to cut them back again and at what height to achieve the same production and growth as last year?


AnswerIf you have standard crape myrtles then try pruning them into a tree again. Choose three to five of the straightest and strongest sprouts and prune everything else out in late February to mid March. Then take off anything smaller than a pencil in diameter. Eventually they will grow back into trees, provided they don't get frozen again.

December 2011

QuestionI have a 25 year old dogwood tree that is blooming now. I noticed a couple full sized blooms last Saturday. Sunday I noticed one additional branch full of smaller blooms. How unusual is this? The dry hot summer has stressed the tree, which has about half its leaves withered and brown. I had never pruned the tree, until July of this year, when I remove quite a few of the lower limbs to allow sunlight to shrubs and various plants under the dogwood. I painted the wounds where I cut off the branches.


AnswerYou are not alone--many spring bloomers have had some errant blooms this fall. My loropetalum shrub is in full bloom right now! Many of our plants set their flower buds early and shut down early to deal with our horrendous summer. Then we finally got some rain, it turned cool, heated up again and they thought spring had arrived. There is nothing you can do but enjoy the blooms. Assess the damage next spring to your tree from the summer heat and prune as needed after they finish blooming next spring. Tree paints for pruning cuts are not needed--a nice clean cut is all you want.

February 2011

QuestionI would like to know when I should cut my knockout roses back. I waited until May last year and I realized I should have cut them sooner.


AnswerKnock out roses are considered a shrub rose, so pruning of about 1/3 should be done in late February when we prune hybrid tea roses. With the winter we are having, everything seems to be behind schedule, so if you don't get around to it until mid March you should be fine. Late February is typically chosen because we like to get the pruning done before new growth has really kicked in. Knock outs bloom on the new growth, so late pruning simply delays the first flowers.

November 2010

QuestionWe have a "bridal wreath" (sorry I do not know the official name for it) which we pruned after it bloomed this past spring. Since then it has grown "dramatically" and has some tall shoots on top. It is quite large and located in our front yard near the street. Can I prune it NOW for appearance and not affect its blooms next year? We "inherited" the plant when we bought the lot on which we built our new house and I have no experience with bridal wreaths.


AnswerBridal wreath is the common name for the white blooming spring spirea. Pruning now WOULD affect the flowers for next spring. Flower buds are set for all spring blooming plants now. The time to officially prune is in the spring after bloom. Don’t just prune it to the size you want it to be, because any new growth would then make it larger. Prune it by at least 1/3 more to allow room for new growth. If you have a few wild shoots, taking them off now would not impact your spring display all that much.

October 2010

QuestionMy neighbor recently ran into my Bradford Pear with his truck, knocking off a large section of bark. What can I do to treat the damaged area in hopes of saving the tree? Picture attached.


AnswerOnce a tree is wounded, the wound will always be there, but you can help by cleaning up the wound. Cut off any lose or jagged bark and try to keep it as clean as possible. Time will tell how deep the wound went and how much, if any damage will occur to the top. Have you seen any signs of stress to the top of the tree that is on the side where the damage is? Wound dressings or tree paints are ineffective, the best remedy is a clean wound.

September 2010

QuestionI was wondering when is the best time to trim an arborvitae shrub? I have one that is pretty tall and wide and I did not know the best way to trim it to keep from hurting it.


AnswerFall is not a great time to prune shrubs in the landscape for several reasons. One, you may have a pruned look all winter long if new growth doesn't appear, and if new growth does come on late, it may not be as hardy. I would opt for late February through mid April as the prime time to prune arborvitae. Try not to remove more than one third of the plant when pruning. Also, in the case of needle type evergreens such as arborvitae and junipers, don't prune any branch too severely as they don't sprout out as readily from old wood. If you can, make sure green foliage is still on the branch after pruning.

August 2010

QuestionWe have a 15 foot tall by 18 foot wide fig tree. It's produced a marvelous amount of figs this year, but needs to be trimmed back. It's still producing a few small figs. Any suggestions about how much to cut them back and when? We, the birds, and raccoons love it.


AnswerFigs bear their fruit on the current season growth. The best time to prune them is right before they start growing in the spring. Figs used to suffer winter damage, and many years were frozen back by one half or more. That hasn’t been the case in the past ten years or so, and now the figs are becoming trees, instead of bushes, but we still want them to get through the winter before pruning. Pruning can be done if they are intruding into other areas, but if there is room for the large size I recommend leaving them tall. Let the top figs go for the birds and you can harvest the lower section.

March 2010

Questionow and when do you prune Pampas grass--or do you?


AnswerYes you do. Pampas grass, along with all ornamental grasses should be cut back before new growth begins. Pampas grass can be tough to cut. Some folks use a chain saw, (reversing the blade direction seems to make it easier), while others use hedge trimmers. You won’t be able to cut it flush with the ground, but taking off the majority of the old foliage will give you a healthier and cleaner plant. Do it every year in late February to early March.

July 2010

QuestionThis tree is much-loved by people (and bees) in our Heights neighborhood because of its fragrant leaves and flowers. I tell everyone it’s a lavender tree because of the colored blooms which occur each June; but I have never seen lavender grow on trees! A neighbor tells me it was planted in the 70’s so it has withstood the test of time but the last few years, in late July, the leaves get a brown appearance, shrivel and about half drop off. Can you tell me what the tree is and how I should care for it?


AnswerThe tree is Vitex tree, Vitex agnus-castus commonly called Chaste Tree. From the picture, it looks like your tree would benefit from being thinned a bit at the base, removing some of the excess twigginess. All of the excess canes could be causing some of the decline. The best time to prune is in late February before new growth begins. If the leaves start their decline again this year, bring some samples in to the local county extension office.      

February 2010

QuestionAfter several years of trimming my crape myrtles back, there is a large knot where the new growth comes out each year. Should I continue to trim as in the past or should I cut the tree below the knot or does it really make any difference? They are mature and the knots are about 5 feet high.


AnswerIf you have those gnarly knots or knees, then you are not trimming your crape myrtles, you are butchering them. Cutting them back to those ugly knots or every year encourages loads of new sprouts which grow rapidly then fall over under the weight of the flowers. The key if you have standard crape myrtles is to allow them to grow into graceful trees. You have two options since you have the knots. You can either cut them out or gradually let them outgrow it, cutting off everything less than a pencil in diameter and thinning out the number of branches emerging from the knots to no more than three branches. For those starting with young crape myrtles, the best way to achieve a beautiful tree is to leave three to five main trunks, making sure that there is ample room between each trunk to achieve mature size and width. Let the trunks grow to a height of five to six feet before pruning and then start shaping them into a tree. Depending on the variety, your crape myrtle can be a ground cover Lagerstroemia ‘Razzle Dazzle’, a dwarf getting no more than 3-4 feet or a standard growing 20-30 feet tall. Know what you want before you buy them, and then allow them to grow into what they were supposed to be. An excellent database on crape myrtles—heights, colors, etc is on our extension website at: .

March 2005

QuestionI have three forsythia bushes and only one blooms. I treat them all the same as far as pruning and fertilizing. I have a six foot privacy fence around my backyard and the bushes are planted in the corners. The two that do not bloom are in the southwest and northwest corners. The southeastern corner blooms. What do I need to do to make them all bloom?


AnswerForsythia blooms best in full sun. Is there a difference in the amount of light they receive? It also blooms on one year old wood. Prune out up to one third of the old canes annually in the spring after bloom. If the two shrubs that are not blooming are being shaded, your only option would be to move them to a sunnier location or limb up some trees. They need at least six hours of sunlight a day for flowering.

March 2005

QuestionIs it too late to prune crape myrtles? My neighbor pruned hers in November, and I just have not had time to get it done. The trees are ten feet or more in height, and I see them 3-4 feet all over town. Help!


AnswerYou have probably all heard of the “rape of the crapes” or “crape murder”, and that is what I think is occurring whenever the plants are sheared back to three or four feet. If you are growing a standard crape myrtle, it has the potential to be a small tree, growing up to 20 feet or more. Let it grow up! They have outstanding peeling bark, and interesting branching patterns. If you don’t have room for it to reach its mature size, consider moving it to a location where it does. Blooming may not be as large per stem with taller plants, but you will have more blossoms and they won’t cause the branches to droop over, and you get the benefit of mature bark. To answer your question, it is not too late to prune crape myrtles, but please don’t butcher them. You do want to prune to make sure you have good branching structure, and that you keep a fairly open plant, but yearly shearing is not good!

July 2010

QuestionI have been told that I should be pruning my mums. What advice can you give concerning mums? What will happen to the blooms if I don’t prune them?


AnswerMums should be pinched and or pruned weekly from spring until mid July. This provides a full, bushy plant by bloom time this fall. If they are not pinched, they tend to be tall and ungainly when in bloom and often have little foliage at the base. They usually are top-heavy as well, falling over under the weight of the blooms. There are a few varieties that don't get tall, and are more free branching on their own, but they are not the common varieties we see in home gardens. How do they look now? Don't do any pruning after mid July or you will impact the bloom time this fall.

July 2010

QuestionIs it too late to drastically prune azaleas without interfering with their blooming next spring? Same question about loropetalums.


AnswerI prefer to get the pruning done as soon after flowering in the spring as possible on both plants so they can recover and set plenty of flower buds in late August-September. June was so miserably hot that it did not encourage a lot of new growth. Usually July is not a great month for new growth due to heat, humidity and lack of rainfall. It all depends on the summer. Severe pruning is definitely out of the question, but even light pruning is discouraged past mid June, especially if it is really hot. If you can, wait until next spring. If you have to prune do as little as possible and do so ASAP and keep up with water needs.

June 2010

QuestionI have a few questions concerning hydrangeas. I love cutting them and bringing them inside. Sometimes they begin to wilt within several hours. I've been told to put them in a little bit of water or to use warm water. The point where I have cut them for blooms now has a woody stalk. There is a woody stalk from the ground up a few feet then it branches out green stems with blooms. Do I need to prune that stalk to the ground? They are along the north side of my house and have never been fertilized.


AnswerHydrangeas make beautiful cut flowers. Try to cut them early in the day before it heats up. When you finally bring them indoors, you can make a fresh cut at an angle under water and this should keep the stem fresh and open. Change the water in the vase every two to three days. Tepid, room temperature water is best. If your hydrangeas need pruning, the best time to do it is as soon after flowering as possible. Remove up to one third of the older, woodier stems right at the soil line. This should encourage new growth. Hydrangeas set their flower buds in the late summer/early fall for next year’s flowering. Fertilize then as well. Hydrangeas bloom best when they get full morning sun and afternoon shade. They do not like direct afternoon sun.

June 2010

QuestionMy tomato plants always grow seven feet tall. Is it possible to prune the tops at a young age before blooming to encourage them to bush out more? Even the early girl plants get huge!


AnswerBy all means you can prune them to whatever height you desire. As you prune them, they should get fuller. This has an added benefit of helping to shade the fruit as it ripens, especially as temperatures heat up. Pruning can be done throughout the growing season. You will need some trellis or means of support but they should produce well as long as they are in full sun.

March 2010

QuestionIn December of 2008 I received a poinsettia and kept it alive through the winter and the summer of 2009. It flourished and made a beautiful plant. I forced it to bloom for Christmas of 2009 and had 12 or 13 beautiful blooms for the rest of the year. It is still growing and starting to put on new leaves. I know these plants are not really the type to cultivate and keep in this manner but it is kind of a project to see if I can get it bushed out and get it to bloom again for next Christmas. The plant is getting leggy and I would like to know if it can be trimmed back and made to bush out again without killing it.


AnswerWait until you move it outside for the summer and then prune it back by one third to one half. It will thrive outdoors and get nice and full. Fertilize and water all summer and it should do well. Then move it back inside in September and begin your re-blooming process again.

February 2010

QuestionMy gardenia plants were all bent over, weighted down with snow and ice. Is there possible permanent damage to them? Do I do something now to help them?


AnswerBy now, I would hope that they have straightened up or are on their way to doing so. My loropetalum was touching the ground and it is already almost totally upright again. Check to make sure that no branches were broken under the weight of the snow. If you do see broken branches, prune those, but otherwise wait until spring to see if any permanent damage was done. Burned foliage should be left alone.

April 2007

QuestionI evidently cut my hydrangea bush back too late in the season. The only new leaves coming out are in the bottom of the plant with just one or two on a couple of stalks. Do I leave the other stalks until next year and trust they will come out or do I cut them back? Thank you for your help. I live in Cherokee Village.


AnswerFrom the reports I have been getting statewide, I don't think it had anything to do with when you pruned. It seems that many hydrangeas are growing sparsely from the old top growth and prolifically from the base--even in central Arkansas. This means they suffered winter damage. In the northern counties in Arkansas, this can be a common occurrence. Last year we saw quite a bit of this due to the drier than normal winter, but that was definitely not the case this winter. My guess is the colder than normal temperatures and the fluctuating warm weather caused it. Cut out the old dead growth now and wait and see what happens. Most of the older varieties of hydrangeas only set flowers on the old wood, so you won't see many if any blooms this summer, but they should grow well. If this trend continues, you may want to replace them with a remontant--reblooming form of hydrangeas such as Endless Summer so you can enjoy some flowers each summer.

April 2007

QuestionI read all your wonderful info I could find on crepe myrtles, however, I didn't see this answer. It is now March and I have arrived home to find my crepe myrtles leafing out. I wanted to prune them back, but do I dare do it now with new growth on them? I need to as they are taking over our home.


AnswerWhile it is true that we like to get the crape myrtles pruned prior to new growth beginning, this year things got moving a little quicker than normal. You can still prune without impacting the first blooms by much, but do it soon. The later you prune a summer blooming plant like crape myrtle, the later your first set of blooms may be since they bloom on their new growth. Make sure you know why you are pruning and don't butcher them into ugly knobs. I have seen the worse forms of crape "murder" this year than ever. Let these wonderful trees produce large trunks and let them become trees if you have room for them to grow.

March 2006

QuestionWe have five weigelia bushes that have grown quite large in just a couple of years. Since they tend to flower heavily in the spring, and then just a few blooms throughout the rest of the summer, I'm not sure whether to prune them right after the heavy flowering, or wait until fall... or even January or February. What is the best time and method?


AnswerPrune weigelia immediately after bloom. They set their flower buds in the fall, so you want to allow ample time for recovery after bloom. They have numerous canes emerging from the soil line. If it needs thinning, cut out a few of the older canes close to the soil. This will allow the plant to keep its nice cascading growth habit. Avoid the practice of pruning them into boxes or balls, as this ruins the overall effect.

June 2005

QuestionMy hydrangeas are still in bloom but have grown so large that when it rains they bend completely over on the ground. I'm afraid the limbs will break some time. Can I prune them back and if so, when should I do this so that I will have blooms next summer. Also, how can I make the white ones turn either blue or pink? I read that lime does the trick, but not sure what color that makes them.


AnswerPruning of hydrangeas is often misunderstood. The common pink and blue Hydrangea macrophylla plants bloom in the summer from flower buds set the previous fall. If they need pruning, do so as soon as the flowers are finished. Cut out the taller canes close to the soil surface. This should encourage new sprouts which should be more stable, and hold more of the blooms upright. You can cut out one third of the old growth. If you have white hydrangeas, you cannot alter their color. Depending on which type you are growing will determine when to prune. The oakleaf hydrangea is similar to the H. macrophylla, blooming on buds set in the fall, so prune the same as above. The white Annabelle hydrangea, a Hydrangea arborescens is becoming quite popular. H. arborescens types bloom on the new growth and develop larger blooms if pruned hard before new growth begins in the spring. This also prevents floppy stems. Another white flowering form is H. paniculata, which also blooms on new growth, so should be pruned as needed before growth begins. It does not need as severe a pruning as the Annabelle type.

June 2005

QuestionLast August I pruned my gardenia bushes way back. This spring they looked almost dead with very black leaves on them. They have somewhat revived, but about one fourth of the bush looks dead. When is the best time to prune? Should I have done so when I did since that is when they had finished blooming, or should I have waited until spring?


AnswerGardenias are in full bloom across much of the southern half of the state now. Some plants took quite a hit this winter, and did get nipped back. Several actually died, while the majority that were injured have recovered and have started growing. Some of the damage was superficial--just the leaves were nipped, and the flower buds were undamaged, and beginning to bloom. I don't think there was much you could have done to prevented damage, other than covering them during the huge shifts of temperatures--the 70's to the 20's. For now, prune off the dead wood, and if blooming, wait until they are finished before pruning more. The time to prune gardenias is immediately following bloom. August is a bit late, since they set their flower buds in the fall, so you want to allow recovery time. Last year, many gardenias continued blooming off and on into the fall, so it was hard to prune. Only prune if needed; if there is plenty of room for the plant to grow, leave it alone.

March 2005

QuestionCan I cut back the forsythia after it blooms? And isn't it time to cut back the Rose of Sharon bushes, crepe myrtles and butterfly bushes?


AnswerForsythia should be pruned after bloom. Remove one third of the old canes down at the soil line to encourage new growth. There is still time to prune Rose-of-Sharon, crape myrtle and butterfly bush, as all of these plants bloom on the current season growth. Try to do it soon since new growth is beginning.

December 2005

QuestionMy wife wants to know how and when to cut back hydrangeas. We're in Conway so we've had a few frosts and they are losing their leaves.


AnswerMost folks grow the Hydrangea macrophylla--the big pink or blue flowering types. These plants are losing their leaves now, and entering into a fairly ugly stage. Even though they look like dead twigs, they contain the flower buds for next summer. You should not do any pruning now or you will remove the blooms. The only time to prune them without interfering with flowering is immediately after bloom in the summer.

April 2005

QuestionSpring has sprung and time, I think, to do some bush trimming. We have four large boxwood shrubs in front of our office here in LR. Is it ok to trim them back at this time? Thanks for the help!


AnswerYes, but get it done soon, especially if you need to do severe pruning. Boxwoods tend to have very dense outer foliage, and very little interior foliage. They can look a little ugly immediately following pruning. Pruning while the weather is ideal should encourage a rapid recovery.

January 2006

QuestionI have a large white oak tree that needs some serious pruning. After the dry summer we've had will it be too stressful to prune it now?


AnswerHopefully, the tree was well watered this past year. Pruning shouldn't impact it too much as to water needs, but do utilize proper pruning practices. No topping! If you do thin some branches, be sure to prune to the branch collar and make clean cuts. Try not to remove more than one-third of the growth in any one season. If you are removing dead branches, you may need to wait until spring to be sure of what is living and what isn’t.

February 2006

QuestionI have looked up information about pruning muscadines but after looking at mine I am confused as to how to prune them. Last year they had a lot of foliage but very little fruit. The year before that they had a lot of fruit. I have a main stalk then several long branches out from that and from the branches I have hundreds of very little twig-like branches. The vine is on a chain link fence. Can you tell me how I need to prune these?


AnswerMuscadines should be pruned every year in late February. Muscadines produce fruit on spurs- the short stubby growths that occur on the main vine or arm of the grapevine. You probably have two arms or main runners on the top of the fence. Prune those to a length of two to three feet in each direction and then shorten the spur growth along the cane. When you are finished it will look pretty bare, but each spur should contain 3-4 buds which produce fruit.


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