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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 11/28/2007

Trim plants, bushes for the winter

Are you done cleaning up the garden? It may seem like a never-ending task.

One reader, Mary Norton, asks about her hollyhocks and forget-me-nots. Hollyhocks are nice background plants; they sprout huge blossoms and attract many insects. Once the season is over, they usually will drop many seeds and will sprout again next year. They are biennials, which means they will put their energy toward creating foliage the first year, then flower the second year. They are also considered annuals with great reseeding power that keeps them coming up year after year.

Now that the growing season is over, cut the large hollyhock stems at ground level. Those won't flower again. But look closely around them. You will see little plants sprouting around the mother plant. These will bloom next year. Cover them with mulch and uncover them in the spring.

Forget-me-nots also are annuals that toss out a lot of seeds. Four-o-clocks, California poppies, bachelor buttons, and johnny-jump-ups are other annual favorites that can make a comeback year after year on their own. You also can collect their seeds and see what you come up with next year. Cut back the foliage on this year's plant, then look for small plantlets that might have taken root. Cover them gently with mulch and let them freeze for the winter.

The basic rule of thumb for pruning shrubs is to prune them after they are done blooming. If your shrub used to look like a tree and has gotten out of control, it might take a few seasons to make it look like a tree again, because you shouldn't remove more than one-third of the shrub at a time.

Some shrubs and trees are loaded with blossoms that will be ready to bloom in the spring. The shrubs you shouldn't touch are lilacs, magnolia, crabapple, hydrangea, dogwood, forsythia. You will want your holly shrubs to show off this winter, so wait to shape them in the summer.

Clematis can be pruned in the winter. First prune back areas that are damaged, then prune it back into shape, clipping just after a pair of healthy buds. Hibiscus can be pruned along with your roses. Be sure to protect the base of the rose plant with a four-to-six-inch layer of a compost and manure mixture. Wrap the rose with burlap to protect it from the wind.

Cotoneaster is ready for pruning right now, and so are elderberry.

I'm ready to take my favorite pruners to the cotoneaster along the side of my house. It is out of shape and not doing a whole lot of leafing or blooming. It is time for some remedial pruning.

First, cut out the dead weight. Always get rid of damaged stems and branches that aren't full of leaves. In my case, it won't leave much. Cut the thickest branches down to about two feet above the soil line. Next season, cut the smaller branches down to the same height. Then thin out new shoots to stop them from getting too crowded. Prune the elderberry, leaving only the large trunk coming from the ground and four or five strong stems about four inches long.

Next, I am turning my pruners to the evergreens, viburnum, weigela, and wisteria, but that will have to wait until after Christmas.



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