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Know when to prune your garden in Central Texas

By Diana C. Kirby
Special to the American-Statesman
Perennials that come back from the roots in spring can be pruned down to the ground.

In spite of a fluffy snow day, our relatively mild winter has our landscape plants confused. Depending on where you live, many of them haven’t slipped into dormancy yet. Some sport buds already in anticipation of spring.

Don’t be fooled. Winter still has time to make an appearance. The average last frost date in Central Texas is March 15. We’ve even had a freeze as late as April, and, as of publication, this weekend's forecast included temperatures well below freezing.

Pruning can strike fear into the hearts of home gardeners. It’s the No. 1 concern of my landscape clients — they worry they’ll prune too much, too little, or, that they might kill their plants.

I typically recommend pruning after the danger of frost has passed. Regardless of when you start the pruning process, these basic guidelines will ensure you can enjoy beautiful, healthy plants when they start growing again.

Keep grasses through the winter to provide seeds and habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Perennials

Woody perennials are still growing from their roots and will soon show some tender growth down at the ground level. With these plants — like lantana, esperanza, Turk’s cap, Copper Canyon daisy and the salvias that aren’t still green above ground — it is time to clean up dead limbs.

Don’t be afraid, woody plants can be pruned almost to the ground. Just make clean sharp cuts leaving about 6 inches of stem above the ground.

You can prune native and ornamental grasses down to the base now. The new grass leaves will come up from the bottom, so cut them as low as you can so you don’t leave a dead clump at the base of the plant.

When the danger of frost has passed, prune grasses down to allow new leaves to grow up through the middle.

Evergreens

Evergreen plants — salvia Greggii, skullcaps, Jerusalem sage or skeleton leaf goldeneye — still green above ground, should get a good pruning now, too, but not down to the ground. Because they are still green and growing above ground, you can cut them back by up to one-third from the top to encourage fresh, new growth and shape them as you like.

Most gardeners are hesitant to prune this much, but plants like these will bounce back quickly with full, lush foliage and soon will be blooming as the days warm up. 

Now is also the time to prune most roses. Do not prune spring-flowering plants, however, until after they have bloomed.

Once you’ve cleaned and pruned, don’t be tempted to fertilize plants just yet. They need to use all of their energy to begin new growth and fertilizing now will stress them. Wait until a little later in the spring — when they are established again.

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Succulents

Many aloes, agaves and other similar plants with juicy leaves might have been singed during cool nights. Cold-damaged succulents are usually a lighter color, almost white. Later, the damaged part of the plant will wilt and then turn black with rot. In some succulents, the affected part just eventually falls off. 

With agaves, even with rotten or dead leaves, if the center bud is green and firm, the plant will likely grow out and recover. Damaged or dead parts won’t recover and should be cut out. You might be lucky enough to have some little pups — new plants — growing under the dead plant when you remove dead leaves; look for those as well.

On periodic warm days with spring just around the corner, it feels great to be out in the garden again, even if it means mundane chores like weeding and pruning.  Cutting back dead wood and shaping your plants will ensure full, healthy plants you can enjoy into the summer and beyond.

Landscape designer Diana Kirby helps garden lovers by educating, designing and installing successful gardens.  For consulting follow her at dianasdesignsaustin.com, Diana’s Designs on Facebook or dianasdesignsaustin on IG.