Happy New Year Master Gardeners!!!
Welcome to a new year and new opportunities to make a positive difference in the lives of others; and also for opportunities for our personal growth and development in the area of horticulture and gardening.
Citrus continues to gain popularity among gardeners here in south La. The reason being that in addition to not requiring a lot of management, citrus fruit are delicious and vitamin rich. The one limiting factor in terms of production in this area is cold damage which can severely injure or kill citrus. Because it’s been several years since the last time we had killing cold temperatures, many gardeners have citrus trees that are producing quality fruit. As we approach winter, gardeners must remain vigilant about watching the weather for predicted freezing temperatures along with being prepared to protect trees if needed. There are a few things I’d like to point out to gardeners who at the first prediction of freezing temperatures begin placing calls to the Extension office with question about how to protect citrus trees. It must be noted that in order to be prepared, one must understand cold hardiness and the way it relates to citrus. Cold hardiness refers to a plant’s ability to withstand or survive freeze temperatures without being seriously injured or killed. In terms of cold hardiness kumquats are the most cold hardy, followed by Satsumas, Sweet oranges, and grapefruit, with lemons and limes being the least cold hardy. The old saying by many older gardeners regarding citrus is that sweet fruit can take more cold temperatures and survive than sour fruit. I wonder if that is the reason why we frequently see older kumquat trees on old home sites rather than older lemon trees? It is very important to manage citrus trees to maintain good health because as a general rule healthy trees usually tolerate more cold temperatures, as do older mature trees. It must be noted that anytime the temperature drops below 32 degrees the potential for damage to the fruit on the trees is possible. As temperatures approaches the mid – 20’s and below, the potential for damage to the actual tree becomes increasingly possible. One of the unique things about citrus is that mature fruit can remain on the tree and can be harvested as needed. However, whenever a freeze is predicted, especially if freezing temperatures are predicted for several hours, it becomes more likely that the quality of the fruit on trees will be affected. Long story short, keep an eye on the weather and predicted freezing temperatures and remove fruit anytime a freeze is predicted, especially for several hours. Remember if trees are covered with plastic overnight, that plastic covering should be removed the following morning to avoid damage from heat buildup especially if the sun is shining the next day!!
Winter and early spring are generally the optimum time for gardeners to prune most plants in the home landscape. Every year especially as winter arrives, many calls come into the Extension office regarding pruning of specific plants; mostly questions about when is the best time to prune. Many times I wish the first question would be - I have a particular type of plant and I’d like to know if it requires pruning? Plant species vary in terms of if they need pruning and how much should be removed when pruned. Believe it or not, there are many gardeners who prune only because they read about pruning , or saw someone pruning, and just assumed that the plants in their landscapes needed pruning. It must be kept in mind that before pruning a plant you should decide if you’re pruning for a specific purpose. Gardeners probably should ask why prune before asking when to prune. As Certified Master Gardeners, you’ll be asked or will be a part of conversations regarding pruning especially at this time of the year. While there are no specific etched- in- stone rules for pruning, gardeners should not be afraid to try their hand at pruning. Be sure that you’re pruning for a purpose, you have the right tools and use the proper pruning techniques. Some considerations regarding pruning that gardeners should be aware of is that once the decision to prune is made, preserving the natural form or character of the particular plant species is important. It is also important to note that some shrubs may require annual pruning, while others may not. However it is better to do a little pruning each year than to drastically cut back a plant that has been neglected for several years. For example, if pruning to lower or maintain a certain height for a particular plant species, lower the height by selectively removing branches or canes at varying heights instead of shearing straight across the top of the plant which will destroy the natural form of the plant. On small branches or wood the size of your fingers, the type of pruning technique is not as critical as when you begin removing larger branches. That is when it’s important to make proper pruning cuts. Cuts should be make just outside the wrinkled area where the limb or branch attaches to the main trunk, which promotes callusing and healing of the wound. However if you cut too far inward and into the wrinkled area, this will result in a flush cut that severely restricts healing, leaving your plant susceptible to insects or disease-induced rot.
There was a time that whenever pruning cuts were made on a plant, the wounds would be painted with special pruning compounds to prevent entry of insects or diseases and to promote callusing. But now it is believed that these compounds actually do more harm than good. As a result, pruning paint, pruning sprays or other compounds are not recommended being applied to pruning cuts or wounds.
Before making the decision to prune, ask Why. Does the shape of the plant need to be influenced or altered? Does the size of the plant need to be controlled? Are there any dead or diseased branches that need to be removed? Are there any parts of the plant that are severely infested with insects? These are the questions that should be asked before deciding to prune a plant. No plant should be pruned without a specific purpose or goal by the gardener. Finally, remember that plants should be selected for placement in the landscape based on their expected average mature size, including height and spread. Too often plants are placed in areas where they outgrow the space and gardeners are forced to constantly battle to maintain the plant at a certain size which leads to frequent pruning. So making the right decision regarding plant selection and placement will go a long way in keeping gardeners out of a constant battle with mother nature. Once you get into a battle to control the size of a plant, you’ll realize that mother nature doesn’t give up!! Remember, if in doubt as to how to properly prune, or when to prune or why to prune, the LSU AgCenter website provides great information. There are also great how- to books on pruning that should be a part of every Master Gardener’s gardening resources.
Happy Gardening in 2016
Gerald P. Roberts
Horticulturist/Master Gardener Program Coordinator
1010 Lafayette Street, Suite 325 Lafayette, LA 70501, GRoberts@agcenter.lsu.edu
Office (337) 291-7090, Fax (337) 291-7099