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The Gardener’s Dirt December 2009


The Gardener’s


Information you can dig into.

North Carolina State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Johnston County Center
2736 NC 210 Highway * Smithfield, NC 27577
919 989-5380
Shawn Banks
Extension Agent
Agriculture—Consumer Horticulture

In this Issue
Feature Article
Gardening To-Do
This newsletter offers timely information for your outdoor living spaces.  Addressing the most common questions ranging from container gardening, tree pruning, wildlife management, to fire ant control, insect identification and lawn establishment.

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Pruning Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape

By Shawn Banks

Each year many people ask the question, “when is the best time to prune my ______ plant?”  There is a lot of information available on when to prune different plants.  It is all correct for the location it was written.  For example, in New York state it may say to prune dogwoods in July or August.  In Florida, it may say to prune dogwoods in May or June.  Her in North Carolina, dogwoods should be pruned in June or July.  It is not that one is correct and the others are wrong.  It is that we each have a different climate to deal with. 

For questions on when to prune a specific plant, contact the local office of N.C. Cooperative Extension, or check online at one of the following links for deciduous trees, evergreen trees, or shrubs.  These lists are from Virginia, but the climate is close enough that the time is the same here in North Carolina.

When pruning trees and shrubs, there are two basic styles of pruning.  The first is thinning.  Thinning is removing the entire branch back to a major branch or the trunk of the tree. The second is heading back.  Heading back is simply removing a portion of the branch back to a lateral bud or many people call this type of pruning – shearing.

Thinning cuts give a more open appearance to the plant.  This allows for more air circulation and light penetration into the plant.  This also reduces fungal diseases on the plant.  This type of cut is good for many types of trees and shrubs that are maintained with a natural look.

Heading back cuts give a more formal and manicured look to the plant.  Heading back cuts are used in nurseries to help a plant bush out more so it looks fuller.  When shearing a formal hedge, it is important to allow for light to penetrate to the bottom limbs of the plant.  Keep the base of the plant wider than the top of the plant to keep foliage on the plant all the way to the bottom.

Choosing the proper tool for the job is also important.  Hand pruners are good for small stems less than ½ inch in diameter.  Loppers can be used on branches up to 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter.  If the branch is larger than 2 inches in diameter, a saw of some type should be used.  When the limb to be cut is overhead, there are pole pruners that can be used.

Safety should also be a priority.  Be sure to where gloves when using any pruning tool and safety glasses or goggles when using a saw.  If cutting overhead limbs, wear a safety helmet to protect the head. 

For more information view a copy of Pruning Trees & Shrubs.  It is also available at the N.C. Cooperative Extension office.

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Hand holding clipboard          Announcements banner heading            Hand holding clipboard
January 20, 2010 Extension Master Gardener training class will be held from 1:30pm until 4:30pm.  This class is a 13 week course.  If you are interested in becoming an Extension Master Gardener and helping people find solutions to gardening questions, this class may be for you.  Please fill out an aplication and send it to Shawn Banks at N.C. Cooperative Extension, 2736 NC Highway 210, Smithfield, NC 27577.  There is a cost for this class.

January 30, 2010 Fruit Tree Training and Pruning workshop will be held at the Central Crops Research Station in Clayton, NC.  For more information visit the event page on our website.

February 13, 2010 Grapevine Pruning workshop will be held at Hinnant Family Vineyards in Pine Level, NC. For more information visit the event page on our website.

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Gardening to-do Banner


Man taking a soil sample ➢    Learn exactly what your soil needs by taking a soil sample and having it tested.  Most plant health problems start in the soil.  A healthy soil will mean less pest and disease problems.

LAWN CAREWinter weeds in lawn

➢    If it hasn’t been done already fertilize cool-season lawns such as fescue.  Roots of cool-season grasses continue to grow whenever the ground is not frozen.
➢    Cool-season weeds in established cool-season or dormant Zoysia or Bermudagrass lawns may be treated with broadleaf herbicides


➢    Prune evergreens to use for winter decorations in the house by cutting out unwanted limbs that would be pruned in February anyway. (Save major pruning for late winter.) Holly, Magnolia, Cedar, and Nandina foliage will last a long time.
➢    Many landscape shrubs can be propagated from hardwood cuttings including American holly and junipers Juniper.
➢    Prevent winter damage to plants from dessication (drying), freezing and thawing, and breakage from ice and snow loads. Keep plants watered during dry periods. Read ‘How to Protect Plants from Cold Damage’ at  https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-604.html .
➢    This is an excellent time to mulch shrubs, trees, perennials, and herbs for winter protection. Apply a layer 3″ deep since most perennials are dormant and it’s easy to get a wheelbarrow into the garden.  Mulch comparisons and general info: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-608.html
Mimosa tree in flower ➢    Weed out “weed” trees and shrubs. Prolifically-seeding plants like oak, elm, mimosa Mimosa Tree, hackberry, plum, and ligustrum (privet) produce numerous offspring which compete with other landscape plants for light, water and nutrients. Weedy woody seedlings are easier to remove while still young.
➢    Need help selecting and caring for your holiday tree?  Check out Holiday Tree Selection and Care
➢    Put your cut Holiday tree to use!  Cut the branches and lay them over perennials to protect them from the cold. Shred small branches to make mulch.


➢    Do NOT prune fruit trees now.  Fruit trees are best pruned late winter just before they start to grow in spring.
➢    Asparagus crowns can be planted now through March.


➢    Giving gifts? Consider giving a good gardening book or accessory! Gardening is a gift all year round.
➢   Build raised beds now for plant next spring. 
Find out why and how at:  http://chambers-tx.tamu.edu/publications/B6102.pdf


➢    Clean bird feeders monthly with hot sudsy water and diluted bleach to prevent the spread of wild bird diseases. Keep seed hulls from accumulating underneath the feeder to discourage rodents.



➢    Check holiday and gift plants for insects before locating them near other plants.

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Got Questions? We’ve got answers!

If you have a gardening issue you would like to see addressed in this newsletter please let me know I will do what I can to get you the information you need.  Contact me by e-mail at shawn_banks@ncsu.edu or by phone at (919) 989-5380.

The Johnston County Master Gardener Volunteers are available Monday, Wednesday, or Friday from 1 to 4 pm to answer questions as well.  They can also be contacted by phone at (919) 989-5380.

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