Q. I was too hot and tired to prune all summer, so what can I hit this fall without damaging the look of my yard or my plants?
A. Many gardeners have this problem right now. They never got to that trimming in early spring, missed summer opportunities, and recent superb fall weather has had everyone itching to go clipping.
Our climate is peculiar enough that some plants in optimum locations will produce new growth (read: tender and vulnerable) in mild fall weather. This new growth can be damaged over the winter and will produce scruffy, wounded plants in spring.
You should avoid severe pruning of boxwoods, small-leafed hollies and other small-leafed evergreens. You may clip off a tip, but don't do any hard pruning back. Wait until early spring instead.
In cooler weather before the holidays, you can prune the large tree hollies for greens to decorate with no danger of new growth.
Many popular garden plants produce their buds, very small now, over the summer, and these open in spring. For instance, if you prune the tips of azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, pieris, forsythia, January jasmine or mophead hydrangeas, you will be removing next year's blooms. If you desperately need to thin out the plant, choose big stems to cut back, but leave plenty of tips. You can reduce overall size and keep some blooms.
Needled evergreens are tough enough to survive cold weather so that you can shape them now and reduce their size without encouraging new growth. However, never cut a needled-leaf evergreen back to a bare stem. Most will not regenerate, although there may be a few exceptions. Needled evergreens like junipers, hemlocks and spruces grow from the tip outward, and a bare wooden stem will simply die.
Remember when pruning to always leave some green, and your plant will thicken up from the tips outward. All fall pruning should include a good cleanup of the surrounding areas to ensure that any pests or fungus problems are eliminated.
Email Pat Lea at firstname.lastname@example.org.