I was driving down south last week when I noticed some seriously butchered crape myrtles along 395 in a prominent location along the highway. I don't want to embarrass anyone so I've included pictures from outside the area of this common offense to plant physiology.
There are a couple problems with this practice often given the grim moniker of crape murder. It's not as common in the Owens Valley as other places, but there is no reason why we need to catch up with the rest of the world in this case.
Second, crape myrtles are marginally hardy in Owens Valley. At least the above ground parts. When the limbs are topped, I've noticed dieback from freezing from the early new growth that emerges in spring. That leaves a stub with some weird branches that grow about 12” from the big cut.
Early spring, not winter, seems to be our most damaging season to crape myrtles. I don't have any real data on this, but my experience here and in Arkansas is that fall pruned crape myrtles are more likely to have winter damage in extreme years or late winters. Probably makes no difference in mild climates.
For the most part crape myrtles need no pruning. They are actually an easy plant. Easy is good! If you'd like a neater looking bush, you can clip the spent flower parts off and thin out some small branches to improve the shape. If you do need to make a major cut, in this area it's best to wait until the new growth begins in spring. They are usually slow to start here so be patient.
If one of the big limbs starts to look terrible or dies over winter, go ahead and remove the whole thing. It will be replaced with a new shoot in late spring.
Finally, it's OK to prune plants, but try to have a real reason. I can't think of any reason to top crape myrtles. It's not needed at all. They are naturally a graceful plant.
- Author: Trina Tobey
Pruning Pomegranates is easy!
As a first year Master Gardener, I am learning fruit tree pruning hands-on for the first time. When it came to pruning my pomegranates, I had to dig a little deeper than my Master Gardener Handbook for information. So while I was doing my research, I thought it would be a good idea to type it up and share it on our blog. I took before and after shots of my two year old pomegranate that I pruned for the first time.
Did I do it right? You be the judge.
You will prune your pomegranate to remove tree parts that bear poor quality fruit, to encourage fruit production, and to allow good light penetration. You might also prune your pomegranate to maintain a certain shape for aesthetics or height for easy harvesting. Some people shape their pomegranates like a tree while others use pomegranates like a hedge. Like with any fruit tree, you need to remove dead and damaged wood annually. Pomegranates have thorns, so you will want to wear gloves and long sleeves to protect your skin.
Naturally, pomegranates are a multi-trunk shrub. However, they can be pruned into a single or mult-trunk tree. Either way, the number of trunks should be limited from three to six, otherwise fruit production may suffer. I left four on mine. Pruning your pomegranate into a tree form can mean risking fruit production if you live in an area that freezes like we do. So for high desert areas in Inyo and Mono counties, a shrub form works best. Pomegranates form fruit on second year wood, so be careful not to prune too much or you may end up with no fruit.
After planting, cut the pomegranate to 60-75 cm (24 to 30 in). In the first year after planting your pomegranate, you should remove suckers from the roots and trunks after your primary 3-6 trunks are established. Continue this practice at least annually or as they arise.
After the first year, you will prune your pomegranate during dormancy after the risk of frost has passed but before full bloom in the spring. In late dormancy of the year following planting, prune the branches by 1/3, remove crossing branches, and leave 3-5 shoots per branch.
After the third year, you will only need to prune your pomegranates lightly each year to encourage fruit production. Pruning your pomegranate heavily will reduce fruit production but you will want to prune heavily after a year with little growth in order to re-invigorate your pomegranate. If you have a year with little or no crop, prune lightly. You will want to prune more heavily on the tops because this is where the vegetative growth occurs. Open up the middle of the plant to allow light and air to reach the blooms, which will increase fruit set. Thinning shoots on the end of the branches will increase fruit size and quality on the remaining shoots.
So there you have it. Pruning a pomegranate takes less time and makes less of a mess than peeling and eating a pomegranate. Good luck!
For more information:
- Ferguson, L., Glozer, K., & Bell, M. (2008). Shaping Pomegranates. UC Davis. http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/files/datastore/391-575.pdf
- Wilson Bros Garden (2020). https://www.wilsonbrosgardens.com/how-to-prune-a-pomegranate-tree-or-bush.html.
- Growing Pomegranates in California (1980) UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Leaflet 2459.https://ucanr.edu/sites/Pomegranates/files/122804.pdf
What caught my eye, however, was how the buds began to grow in response to the pruning. I thought it was a good illustration on how plants respond to cuts.
As you can see from the picture the buds near the cuts were immediately released from their winter quiescence. As you move down the stem the buds are growing, but were less affected.
This is typical when pruning. You can use this feature of plant growth to direct where the new growth with go on roses and other plants. Simply choose a bud facing outwards (or whatever direction you want), prune right above that, and new growth will commence right below the cut.
You may have noticed that many trees in our area that have been topped back send up many, many new branches to replace the missing branch. This is an example of the same process. In trees, it is usually an undesirable outcome that causes more problems than it solves; however, in roses, it can be a useful tool to manage growth.
If all goes well, this stem should send up a new stem facing outward that will be vigorous and healthy. If I remember to water it, that is!
If pruning interests you or you would like to learn more about how heading cuts affect plants, this article from Harvard has a nice overview.
- Author: Edith Warkentine
If you have not already done so, it is time to prune your young fruit trees!
On February 25, 2019, Dustin Blakey demonstrated how to prune young fruit trees to a group of about 25 Master Gardeners and other home gardeners at the home orchard of Kristin Ostly. This discussion covers some of the high points of his demonstration.
The primary purpose of pruning young trees is to develop structure so that the trees will be productive in the long haul. There are two primary shapes that can be chosen: the “vase,” or the “Christmas tree.” The vase shaped, or open structure, is the most commonly used in the home orchard. This method keeps the center of the tree free of large branches to allow sunlight to reach the lower fruiting wood. The Christmas tree shape, also known as the central leader system, is frequently used in commercial orchards, to allow trees to be closer together. This method keeps trees with lateral branches arranged in separate layers and branches in lower tiers wider than those in upper ones.
As Dustin proceeded to demonstrate young fruit tree pruning he moved from tree to tree and consistently: (1) removed branches that grew to the inside of his desired vase shape; (2) where branches were competing for space, chose the more vigorous branch to survive and cut back the competing branch; (3) removed dead wood and suckers; and (4) removed branches to keep the open center, removing branches that would overly shade lower fruiting wood.
For further information see Training and Pruning Deciduous Trees, Publication 8057, UC ANR.
I often get asked about whether fall is a good time to prune the landscape. While the mild weather makes it attractive to work outside, it's probably a good idea to wait, but you won't usually kill a plant outright by pruning. I don't even think about pruning until late winter. (In cold winters, I have seen some winterkill on fall-pruned plants that should have been hardy, but these are usually new plants or have other issues.)
On large orchards, practicality makes the pruning season start fairly early so that the job can get done in time, but homeowners have a lot more flexibility. Don't set your pruning schedule based on what you see in the Central Valley or down south.
Here are some pruning tips for the Eastern Sierra.
Summer-flowering trees & shrubs, modern roses, and grapes: Wait as late in winter as you can bring yourself to do, but before it gets warm. It's fine to do some light pruning early on, but wait to do the final pruning. I'm lazy and only want to prune once. March works well in these parts. An advantage to waiting is you can see what was damaged during winter and remove that. Low desert folks will do this in January.
Spring-flowering ornamentals and once-blooming roses: Wait until they flower and then prune them then.
Perennials: Do not cut back the dead foliage in winter. Leave it. Pretend it's a desireable feature if you must. The foliage protects the crown and roots from freeze damage. Remove the dead stuff just before the new growth starts. Early March is probably good. This goes for ornamental grasses, too. Folks near Lone Pine and points south can do this a bit earlier.
As a couple examples, in my admittedly non-scientific trials in Arkansas (USDA Zone 7) garden mums always made it through their first winter if not pruned even without mulch, and maybe 80% made it through if they were pruned in fall. Lantana camara always survived better if I waited until it was absolutely positively dead. I always waited until spring in my yard. Whenever I hacked it back in fall, it failed to overwinter. (Always mulched this.)
Hydrangeas: Even though their name means water-lover, they are still grown in the Owens Valley. Whatever you do, don't remove those ugly, "dead" sticks. That will be spring's flowers. Wait until they have finished blooming. The only time they need pruning is if they get too big. Same reason you'd need a haircut. When I'm sure those sticks are really dead, I remove them. Usually May. Get it done before June 25.
Palms? Not too many here in Bishop but here's some info. Maybe south Inyo folks will find it useful. I've seen a lot of mis-pruned palms there.
Remember, just because you have a plant and a set of pruners, that doesn't mean the two need meet up. Most plants do not need annual pruning. Always have a reason since you can't just glue the branches back on. Homeowners with pole pruners often do more harm than good.
Big, sick, dead, ugly, dangerous, or fruit/flower management are all good reasons. Because your neighbor does it is not a good reason. Nor is having a pruner in the garage.
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