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Tue, Nov. 12

Jasmine is first to bloom; it's almost pruning time

The drab colors of winter are starting to wear on me. I'm ready to see the first crocus bulbs emerge from the ground, the first red flowering quince to bloom as an announcement of spring. So when I see any sign of spring from the plants here at the garden center, I'm ready to celebrate.

The last few days have caused the winter jasmine, Jasminum x nudiflorum, to pop into color. This unusual plant is the very first shrub to bloom in the late winter and early spring season. It blooms first with golden yellow flowers covering the stems. Shortly after the blooms fade, the leaves start to cover these same stems. It loves full sun and grows to about 5 feet in height and is very hardy for the tri-city area.

They are so difficult to find that you rarely see them in catalogs or can obtain them from other growers. We have had to grow them ourselves. First from cuttings in one-gallon pots and them shifting them to a larger five-gallon container. The yellow is so bright against the drab colors of winter that it almost glows.

Pruning is the hot topic here at the garden center. I'm not sure how to tackle this subject that entire books are dedicated to. If you want more on pruning, visit us here at the nursery, or the best book on the subject that is easy to read and understand is "How to Prune Fruit Trees" by R. Sanford Martin. No fancy picture here, just easy-to-follow sketches and down-to-earth explanations.

Remove stakes and guy wires installed on trees planted last spring and fall. Allowing a little swaying of tree stems results in sturdy yet resilient plants. Thin out some branches of trees, which have a history of leaf spot diseases. Pruning will improve air circulation and penetration of sunlight, which in turn can reduce the incidence of disease. Trees prone to diseases such as powdery mildew, leaf spot and shot hole are flowering and fruiting plums, cherry and peaches as well as willows and poplars.

Prune out dead or damaged branches and twigs of trees and shrubs. When I first started gardening in the Prescott area more than 25 years ago an old-time gardener taught me how to tell if a branch was dead or alive, with or without leaves on the branch. Use your thumbnail to scrape a little bark off the branch. If the color of the wood under the bark is green, then that branch is alive and viable. If the color of the wood is white, it is in question, and if brown that branch is dead. Prune the dead branches out.

There are two techniques for pruning the remaining branches on your trees and shrubs – heading and thinning. Heading is where branches are cut back to healthy buds. This method is mainly used on evergreen shrubs, hedges and roses.

Thinning is where a shoot or branch is completely removed either back to ground level or back to another main branch or trunk. No prominent stub remains. This is usually the best method for pruning trees.

The biggest mistakes I see our customers make here at the garden center involves pruning trees and shrubs that bloom in the spring now and pruning back roses now. Wait on both of these.

Shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, azalea and rhododendrons all bloom in early spring. They have been using all their energies to form flower buds this winter, and by pruning them now all these flower buds will be lost with no time to reform new buds before spring.

Go ahead and prune back summer-blooming shrubs such as butterfly bush, Russian sage and vitex now, but wait to prune back spring blooming shrubs until after they have bloomed this spring. If you enjoy pruning as much as I do, this is a case of truly getting to have your cake and eat it too. Enjoy the flowers this spring, and then enjoy pruning them back in the warmer days of mid spring.

Now for roses. You'll have to trust me on this one, as it's the school of hard knocks speaking. It's a beautiful day out, the pruners, saw and loppers are already out and the roses are calling to you ... cut me. The problem is if you cut them back too early they will start to sprout and the cold nights will burn them back. Even worse, a severe cold front may come and kill back even more canes, and you have already cut them. Between pruning early and a late winter storm you could end up with a six-inch stub for a rose. Wait until March to cut back roses. I'll write about pruning roses when the proper time comes.

Now is the time to begin applications of dormant oil sprays to fruit trees such as pear and apples. Dormant oil will kill any insect that might be wintering over on your trees and kill any eggs that were laid last fall. It is highly effective at controlling the worms that get into the fruits of your trees.

Also apply oil to ornamental trees and shrubs with a history of aphid, scale or spider mite infestations. Destroying these pests safely with spring applications of dormant oil will reduce your use of pesticides later in the growing season.

White pruning paint on the trunks of fruit trees and shade trees such as maples; young poplars and willows would appreciate a coat of pruning paint.

(Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona certified nursery professional and Master Gardner.)

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