When to trim hollies?

How to Prune a Holly Tree

The holly tree is a favorite of many home landscapes. It doesn’t require much maintenance once mature which adds to its appeal. However, regular pruning is essential to encourage new growth and help the tree retain its shape. Pruning also encourages production of new berries which is important for young hollies. These trees tend to be dormant in winter, which makes December a good time for pruning. You can also prune lightly in the early summer, as it will allow time for new shoots to develop. However, if you prune too heavily or after flowering, this will hinder production of new berries, so follow these steps for the proper procedure.

Tip: Always start pruning by removing dead or damaged wood. Remember that less is more when it comes to pruning; you can always go back in and remove more growth if needed.

Step 1 – Dress for Safety

When trimming hollies, it is a good idea to put on gloves and safety goggles. This will protect you from injury by the prickly holly leaves.

Step 2 – Inspect the Tree for Damage

Carefully inspect the tree for any indications of insect infestation or diseased parts. Also take note of areas of the tree that are damaged, paying particular attention to the trunk. Wounds on the tree likely represent some disease. If the tree is considerably infested or diseased, it is a good idea to cut it down and extract the entire tree. Mild areas of infestation can be treated with an appropriate pesticide.

Step 3 – Prune Lowermost Branches

It is best to begin pruning at the bottom and work your way up. Start with the lowermost branches at ground level and cut them off as far back as the trunk. Some branches may even emerge from just beneath the ground level.

Step 4 – Prune Downward and Upward Growing Branches

Trim off branches that are growing downwards as well as upwards, and trim off any that appear awkward in the angle they take or seem to be an obstruction to other branches. Use a ladder to reach higher parts if the tree is tall.

Step 5 – Prune Damaged Branches

Cut off all branches that are dead, bent, or damaged, and get rid of branches that appear weak. These can not only hinder growth, but they can be a falling hazard if your area is prone to high winds or storms.

Step 6 – Work the Middle Section

Step up on a ladder to put the middle section of the tree at eye-level. Usually, the most dense growth occurs here. Trim particularly dense areas and any branches that cross or intersect others. This encourages better air circulation and reception of sunlight, which is vital for healthy growth. Avoid cutting branches at the bottom shorter than those at the top. When lower branches fail to get adequate sunlight it can result in eventual death.

QUESTION: I have a 5-year-old holly tree that is full of branches at the bottom but has produced only a few limbs at the top. Should I cut the top out to encourage branching?

ANSWER: It’s better not to remove the top of a tree. Cutting off the central leader encourages branching that produces an abnormally shaped tree.

The upper branches of a tree may be several feet apart. When there is excessive space between these limbs, the tree normally fills in with side branches that gradually droop to fill in the gap.

If you remove the top of the tree, new branches form along the trunk within a foot or two of the cut. As the limbs grow, train one shoot to become a central leader and resume the normal growth of the tree.

Q: While in Williamsburg, Va., we saw the Bradford pear tree in full bloom. Would this be a good tree for Central Florida? If not, is there a substitute?

A: Some gardeners have tried to grow the Bradford pear locally, but they have been disappointed. For a few years the tree does produce the white canopy of spring flowers you enjoyed up North, but then it gradually declines.

The Bradford and similar pears appear susceptible to a disease called fire blight that causes the branches to die. Once believed to be caused by a bacteria, the Florida decline now appears to be produced by a fungus. Pruning the affected portions and applying fungicides gives some control, but the treatments are time-consuming.

Another late-winter flowering tree might give a similar look. This spring look for the native Chickasaw or flatwoods plums to see if they could be substituted. The trees grow to 20 feet tall and fill with white blossoms for about a week or two in February.

Q: We love the golden-rain trees in our yard but dread the spring sprouting of the hundreds of seeds. How can we prevent the seeds from germinating?

A: Renewing the mulch layer over the surface of the soil may bury some of the seeds and keep them from germinating. It takes a 2- to 3-inch layer to stop most tree seeds.

You also can try a pre-emergence herbicide made for use under woody plants. Products that might give control if applied during late winter before the seeds sprout include Suflan or Treflan. These are often available at garden centers in brand-name products made for pre-emergence weed control among ornamental plantings.

Q: The cold destroyed the foliage of my banana, but the plant has a large cluster of unaffected fruits. Can I use the fruits?

A: Unless the fruits are near maturity, the bananas still on the plant won’t produce the familiar taste. When the leaves are lost, the plant no longer has a way of feeding the fruits to produce the banana flavor.

Remove the fruits from the plant and hang them in a shady site to ripen. A taste test of fruits that turn yellow is the only way to tell if you saved the crop.

Q: For the past two years our orange and grapefruit trees have produced pea-sized fruits that have dropped from the trees. Is there any way to prevent this?

A: Several years of premature fruit drop are normal for young trees or trees making vigorous growth. No special treatment is needed, and the trees gradually develop the mature bearing habits.

Do make sure you are not contributing to the fruit drop by overfeeding or overwatering the trees. Trees older than 3 should be fed lightly three to four times a year and watered once or twice a week. Even with this care, some trees still have years of poor fruit set.

Q: I have several sagos with brown speckling on the lower fronds. We have treated the foliage with malathion and applied manganese to the soil. What else should we do?

A: Give the treatments time to take effect. Brown spots on the foliage, whether caused by insects or a nutrient deficiency, do not disappear. Make sure scale insects that may have caused the spotting are under control and starting to flake off the foliage. If a deficiency is the cause, you may have to wait for a flush of growth to notice the effect of the treatments.

Any condition that affected root growth of the sagos also could cause browning of the foliage. Make sure the plants are not growing in a poorly drained soil or are being overwatered.

Q: Our tangerine trees are more than 20 years old and bear heavy crops that appear to be stressing the branches. Should I prune the trees this spring so they’ll produce fewer fruits?

A: Where limbs are in danger of cracking, pruning may help. Thin the outer limbs to leave fewer fruit-producing shoots. Some of the limbs also may be cut back to reduce the width of the tree and strengthen the branches. Do the pruning in February just before new growth and flowering.

Gardening: It’s time to prune those evergreen shrubs | Raleigh News & Observer

Thinning is the practice of pruning individual stems to create a more open, billowy plant and allow light to reach the interior. Kenneth Silver Observer file photo

Some of you have been eyeing your evergreen shrubs all winter, waiting for the right moment to reduce their size and improve their shape. Well, the moment is here so sharpen up your shears and prepare to prune.

This work includes evergreens such as hollies, nandina, ligustrum, laurel and boxwood that are overgrown or simply intruding onto driveways, doors, windows or sidewalks. Pruned now, they will be ready to put out fresh growth that will be the best looking foliage of the year. If you wait until spring, after this growth has emerged, you will cut it off. Then, though the size of the plant will be right, you will be left with the oldest growth and will have lost the best of the year’s new.

Leave alone for now shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, pieris, forsythia, gardenia, cleyera, loropetalum and the like that bloom in winter or spring. They should be pruned immediately after flowering.

Well-established shrubs should respond to pruning with great vigor once they break dormancy in early spring, and this growth will be quite lovely, particularly when contrasted to the older leaves that show their age.

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You should approach this pruning in either of two ways: shearing or thinning. Both are descriptive of what they accomplish.

Shearing is a simple task usually done with a long-bladed tool such as hedge shears. The aim is to create an even height and shape to the plant. This is most often done with the smaller Japanese hollies when a formal look with a flat top and sides is desired for edging purposes. Shearing is also done to monkey grass in February to allow fresh, better-looking growth to rise for the new year. But this does not have to be done every year, just when the older growth starts to look bad.

However, most pruning is done by the act of thinning, which means the removal of individual stems by cutting them back one at a time to another lateral stem or sometimes to the base. This is a very effective way to reduce height without marring the natural shape of the plant. It is effective as a way to clean out and lighten up a plant that has become more of a thicket than an attractive shrub.

Boxwood plants should never be sheared. Light thinning of individual stems is far better because it encourages a denser plant that is billowy rather than rigid. This allows more light to sneak into the interior of the plant and encourage foliage to develop further along the stems, instead of simply at the tips. Thinning is done with small pruning shears, not hedge clippers.

Thinning too is best done to the larger hollies to give a looser, airy look that is very natural to see. It also works well with nandinas, which can become a thicket. Simple removal by thinning of the oldest vertical stems to the base should improve the plant’s appearance and encourage fresh growth that is desirable.

Nancy Brachey: [email protected]

Ask Nancy

Q. I have heard there is an easy way to get more Lenten rose plants from ones I have already. How does this work?

A. As winter moves into spring, start looking for seedlings around your Lenten rose plants. These can be left to grow larger, then moved to wherever you want to have them in the shade. They should produce blooming size plants in three years or so. The flowers may or may not be the same color as the mother plant, but they will be beautiful and useful, not to mention, free.

Pruning is All About Timing

To prune or not to prune? Such contemplation can lead to frustration. Or, you may be the, “Just cut away, it’ll be alright!”, type. There is a middle ground and it’s all about timing. Proper pruning techniques applied in the correct season will promote vigor and health in your landscape. The three basic pruning techniques are:

1. Thinning – completely removing some branches back to a main branch or trunk. Be careful to not cut into the branch collar; doing so allows for infection.

2. Renewal – removes one-third of the old, mature stems to ground level.

3. Rejuvenation – severely cutting back the entire plant to 3″ above ground level. This allows for all new growth. (i.e. Butterfly Bush & Forsythia)

Knowing which technique is appropriate for each plant will make the “chore” of pruning less daunting. Deciding on the correct time to prune can be broken down into 2 groups. Pruning time in Group 1 is late winter to early spring and Group 2 is after the bloom cycle. Here are some of our most popular plants broken into pruning groups:

Group 1 – Prune in late January to early March

  • Barberry
  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa)
  • Burning Bush
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Fatsia (Aralia)
  • Liriope
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans)
  • Crepe Myrtle
  • Chaste Tree (Vitex)

Group 2 – Prune just after plant finishes flowering

  • Azalea
  • Cotoneaster
  • Forsythia
  • Gardenia
  • Hydrangea
  • Hollies – late April
  • Lilac
  • Loropetalum
  • Privet
  • Spiraea
  • Sweet Shrub
  • Viburnum
  • Weigela
  • Wisteria

Pruning a shrub or tree with the proper technique at the proper time will ensure you enjoy a beautiful landscape all season long. We are always here to help with whatever questions or concerns you may have. Be sure to refer to our list of Classes & Events to attend workshops on pruning, planting and more! Let’s SPRING into action! Nita H., Nursery Manager

  • By Leslie Peck
  • Posted Monday, January 29, 2018

Pruning Trees & Shrubs in Your Landscape

Pruning is important for maintaining the health and beauty of many plants in the garden. However, pruning can be confusing for many gardeners. Here are some answers to common pruning questions.

When should I prune my plants?

Winter is a good time for pruning many, but not all, plants in your landscape. In the winter, plants are dormant, which means they aren’t actively growing. Pruning plants that are dormant can reduce stress to that plant. For deciduous trees, pruning them while they are leafless in the winter can make it much easier for gardeners to see the branch structure.

Before you prune, be sure you know what plant you are pruning. Plants that flower early in the spring, such as dogwood and cherry trees, have already formed buds in the fall. If you prune them during the winter, you will cut off flower buds and lose those spring flowers. On the other hand, plants that bloom later in the season, such as crape myrtles, typically form flower buds on new growth in the spring. Winter is an ideal time to prune these plants.

Pruning calendars are useful resources to know when to prune specific plants. Some resources available online are:

I know when to prune. How should I prune?

Any time you are pruning, do not remove more than 1/3 of the existing plant material. If you remove too much of the plant and foliage, the plant will have a difficult time recovering. When you are pruning, start by removing any branches that fall into the three D’s: dead, diseased, or damaged. Dead wood will be dry and dark in color on the inside when you cut it, whereas living plant tissue is lighter in color on the interior. When pruning any diseased plant, be sure to clean your tools before you continue to prune other plants. Clean the blades of your pruners with a 9:1 solution of water:bleach. Be sure the blades are dry before storing your tools to avoid rusting.

When pruning, cut the branch back to just above a node (a point where leaves or other buds are present on the branch). If you are cutting back to the trunk, do not cut flush with the trunk. Instead, remove the branch just outside the swollen area where it emerges from the trunk. This is called the branch collar. Branches pruned to just above the branch collar will heal naturally. Larger branches should be removed using multiple cuts, to avoid stripping the bark from the tree trunk. With very large branches, it is advisable to call a professional for assistance.

There are a few different types of pruning cuts. Heading cuts can be used to decrease plant size. This removes actively growing shoots, and can stimulate growth at the remaining nodes on the plant. Thinning cuts are used to control the shape of the plant. Thinning cuts are important for removing branches that may be growing in undesirable directions. Thinning the canopy of trees and shrubs allows light and air to enter, and can improve growth and reduce pest pressure.

For more details on pruning techniques, see:

  • General Pruning Techniques, a guide for landscape plants
  • Training and Pruning Fruit Trees, a guide for fruit trees

What tools do I need for pruning?

There are a number of tools used for pruning. Larger tools will be needed for larger branches. Pruning shears are appropriate for limbs up to ½-inch in diameter. Loppers can be used for branches up to 1 ½-inches in diameter. Pruning saws can be used for even larger limbs. For more details on pruning tools, please read:

  • Tools to Make the Cut

Correct pruning can greatly improve the growth and form of plants in your garden. As always, contact your local Extension office if you need further guidance.

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