Fall Pruning Depends on Species

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When is it time to prune trees and shrubs? That depends on the species of the plant.

As a general rule, plants that flower early in the spring flower on old wood. This means that the woody plant has already produced flower buds for next spring. So if you’re pruning now, the flower buds will be removed and the flower display next spring will be reduced. Some examples of spring flowering shrubs that don’t need to be pruned now include azaleas, forsythia, and Chinese fringe flower.

Plants that aren’t grown for their flowers, but for their evergreen foliage and are used for hedges, screens, and foundation plantings are pruned differently. Many of them, hollies included, may flower in the spring, but the flower isn’t the main purpose for the plant. It’s recommended that these plants be left to go dormant before pruning them. A good rule of thumb is to wait until after our first frost date. For Carteret County, the first frost date in the fall is November 14, give or take a week or two. That being said, most plants will be dormant by mid-November and pruning won’t encourage buds to grow right away.

Deciduous trees and shrubs can be a little different. Again, it may depend on when it flowers, but these are an exception. Many deciduous plants can be pruned anytime after they have gone dormant. Research has shown that the younger the plant is, the more susceptible it is to cold injury. Meaning, if it is a young tree or shrub, it’s best to wait until February or March to prune them.

Another question that often comes in this time of the year is, when can I transplant a plant in my yard that is in the wrong place? Fall is often the best time to do this.

When moving a plant, it’s best to wait until the top part of the plant has gone completely dormant before making the move. When it is dormant, cut the plant back by about 1/3 and then dig up as big of a root ball as possible to move to the new location. It would be a great idea to already have the new hole dug or at least partially dug, so the plant can be put right into the ground in the new location.

Keep the new transplant watered at least weekly and probably a little more often if the soil is really sandy to make sure it doesn’t dry out during the winter. Winter winds will dry a plant out just as sure as the summer sun and heat, especially if the plant has leaves on it. This is true for container plants that are planted in the fall as well.

The roots of trees and shrubs will continue to grow through most of the winter in our area, so fall planting or transplanting will help them get established in the new location before the summer heats up.