The lush golden days of fall, rich in vibrant color, have given way to grey skies and brown leaves driven by cold winds. The landscape, stripped of flower and foliage, is bleak. The eye and emotions need time to adjust to the visuals of dormancy. This is your opportunity to assess, and more importantly, to act. Not just a time for amassing fantastic garden images on Pinterest, winter is the new summer. Well, not really- but it is an ideal time to reform the garden.
The most gratifying creative destruction is pruning. Take some time to learn the basics of proper pruning techniques first, either online or try a class at Cornell Co-Op or Rochester Civic Garden Center.
We become accustomed to our trees and shrubs, and then we stop seeing them. Winter dormancy, especially at its shocking start, is the perfect time to take a fresh look. Evaluate each of your woody plants as individuals. Are they stubby and heavy at the ends, ugly without their cloak of foliage? Are the stems crowded and tangled? Next adjust your view to a broader look at how woody plants work in the garden composition as a whole. Pay attention to scale and proportion. Often you may find that a woody plant has been allowed to grow out of scale with its setting.
During the growing season, leaves obscure the architecture of the plant, shifting attention to the profile alone. Summer pruning often just addresses the margins of growth, to impose a defined form. Year after year of this kind of pruning can create a stilted and unnatural plant; ends thick with tangled growth, centers bare and a plant having little grace or natural beauty. Dormancy allows the gardener exclusive focus on structure and branch pattern while insulating the plant from stress. Timing deeper pruning for fall and winter has allowed the plant full production power during the growing season. Come Spring those stored carbohydrates rise up from the roots, fueling new growth to fill out the plant and replace the old stems culled.
Where you locate a cut influences where new growth occurs. By pruning deeper within the plant, you’ll stimulate new
growth from within, instead of only at the ends of branches. This creates a more graceful and natural looking pattern of growth, while keeping a plant rejuvenated and young.
Pruning evergreens such as Holly, Boxwood or Chamaecyperus also supplies fresh greens for pots, wreaths, or indoor arrangements. Boughs pruned from deciduous plants, such as Forsythia, Cherry, Crabapple and Magnolia can be placed indoors in a vase of water (called “forcing”) where flower buds will rouse and bloom after a week or so. Think beyond the usual flowering trees and try forcing Maple, Dogwood, Willow or other woody plant stems. Spread the work of pruning throughout the cold months and enjoy a glimpse of spring in a vase all winter long!