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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prune It or Lose It

One year old lavender plant, 24 inches wide, 18 inches tall.

February is the month for pruning. Grape vines should be cut back to the main trunk in order to produce the new growth needed to produce grapes. Muscadines, those Southern grape cousins, can be treated just like regular grapes, cutting off all of last year’s vines back to the main trunk.

Peach and apple trees get their pruning this month, as well. One old gardener told me  years ago that a peach tree should be gleaned of all the interior limbs so that, “You can sail your hat right through the middle.” If sunlight can’t get into the interior of the tree, you’ll only have peaches on the outer branches.
Half the plant has been pruned. Notice how much of the plant I am removing.

Because I grow considerably more herbs than I do fruit, I’m keen on pruning those plants now, as well. Waiting too long can damage the plants, so most things are pruned while still dormant, like now. Sage, lavender, santolina (some call it “lavender cotton”), hyssop and thyme - especially the taller, French thymes, are all cousins in the same overall plant family. Natives of the Mediterranean, and left to their own devices, these plants like to wander over rocks and cliff faces. The sprangly limbs root in the soil and the old centers of the plants die off. It’s a normal thing for sage and lavender to do that, and the others in the list, as well. If you’ve wondered why your garden sage plants only last about 3 or 4 years in the garden before unexpectedly die, that’s the reason. They have to be pruned to keep them alive.
A small, one-year sage before pruning. It's about 20 inches wide and 16 inches tall.
The same sage, after pruning. I cut away two thirds of the plant.

I prune lavender, sage and santolina, all in February, just as the tiniest signs of new leaves are forming down deep in the plant. I cut back two thirds of the height and width of each plant. The first time you do it, you’ll likely think the plant won’t come back, but in the next month or so, you’ll see plenty of new growth from the base of the plant. Not only will these plants be more vigorous, they’ll bloom better and the flavor of the leaves will be much better than on old plants that weren’t pruned.
French thyme plants. This one is 24 inches or more across and about 15 inches tall.
The thymes have been cut back by half and the lower hanging limbs removed, too.
Green santolina, partially pruned.

French thyme and hyssop both get cut back by about half, again in height and width. Those, like the other plants I mentioned, will die out in the center. All of these herbs will live for many years if renewed each year by pruning. February is also a good time to add an application of garden lime to the top of the soil in the beds where these specific plants are growing. All thrive in soil with lime and even though we think of the Ozarks as being full of limestone, it’s not in a form that plants can use.

I hope you'll vsit my regular garden blog, too: http://jimlongsgarden.blogspot.com

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