Florida Friendly Pruning Tips

Lilly Browning is the Hernando County Florida Friendly Plant Program Coordinator

It is feeling a bit like springtime. We’ve had a fairly warm winter, and some of our spring plants are going to start blooming early. That puts us all in a mood to freshen up our yards, and start pruning for the coming season. Here are some pruning tips to remember before you pick up those pruning shears:

Tip Number One – Step Away From the Crape Myrtle! You are going to see Crape Myrtles being severely cut back this time of the year. It is a rampant bad habit! As your mother taught you, “Just because your friends jump off a bridge….” The practice of severely pruning Crape Myrtles is called “hat-racking.” The University of Florida calls it “Crape Murder.” It really stresses the tree and shortens its overall lifespan. It creates weak, basal cell growth each year and doesn’t allow the trunk to become strong and grow to its natural height. A properly pruned Crape Myrtle not only has beautiful winter interest, it will be healthier and happier all year long. If you want to prune your Crape Myrtle, you can thin out the twiggy growth and crossing branches inside the tree, snip off the old flower calyxes, and cut out the suckers below. If you want a shorter tree, opt for a dwarf variety of Crape Myrtle, but count on it reaching 20 feet to be safe.

Tip Number Two – If you have any plants that were damaged by our couple of cold snaps, hold off on pruning off the damaged areas until danger of frost or freeze is past. Generally that is mid-March. Don’t hold me to that, because the weather is anything but predictable lately! Just don’t get too eager to prune frozen plant material, as pruning stimulates new growth, which is susceptible to frost or freezes. Also, the dead material provides a cover to protect the rest of the plant.

Tip Number Three – Prune your spring blooming plants after they have finished blooming. Do not prune them any later than June 30th, or you risk cutting off next year’s blooms.
Tip Number Four – For pruning shrubs, you want to do away with your shears and pull out your hand pruners. Shearing the top of shrubs creates a lot of new growth, concentrated on the top of the shrub. You will notice, after a few years, that the shrub has an abundance of growth on the top, and is dying out below. That is because the flush of new growth at the top shaded the sunlight from reaching inside of the shrub. It is best to prune your shrubs in a subtle pyramid shape, so the bottom is just a bit wider that the top. This allows sunlight to get through to the whole bush, and leaf growth can occur all over. Never prune more than 1/3 of a bush or a tree at a time. Keeping the bush as close to its natural shape as possible is best for the health of the shrub. Forced “formal” looks shorten the life of the plant. That may be okay in public areas, but I don’t think most homeowners want to replace shrubs every few years. Keep your pruners at an angle, so water sheds off of the cut you’ve created, and try to cut at “bud points” on the branches.

Tip Number Four - Don’t throw your clippings away! Compost them in your backyard compost pile, or create a small bush pile for birds, lizards, and other critters to make a home.

Tip Number Five – Right Plant – Right Place! When you are shopping for new landscape plants, keep the mature height and width in mind. Look up as well as around when choosing a planting site. Make sure the plant matches the site conditions, now and in the future.