~Don't Run With Snippers In Your Hand~





Fall Fever will be grabbing all of us with a refreshing weather pattern arriving this week.  It’s always energizing to walk outside, take a deep breath and make a task list that you actually look forward to doing.  With a drought-laden, heat oppressive month behind us and a lot of “too hot to do” things staring us in the face, slow down before you whack and hack this fall.  Odds are good that if you madly trim up & tidy up all of your plants, you’ll do more harm than good.

The upcoming break in the hot dry weather will inspire trees, shrubs and perennials to send out new growth and a lot replacement leaves.  Before you go running around with snippers happily shaping and removing the wild looking shoots, keep a couple things in mind:

1.      When’s the first frost and what kind of winter will we have?  All signs are pointing to a wet/cold winter, but we still have plenty of weeks before a hard frost.  Keeping the arrival of cold weather in mind is one of the most important things and should dictate when & what you do.  Usually it’ll take a good 3-4 weeks for a limb to deeply harden off.  Yes- squirrels are doing more gathering than eating, yes- late corn have double husks, yes-horse, cow & donkey coats are already getting thick, yes- there are a lot of foggy mornings, but most importantly the Almanac says we’ll have an impressively cold snowy winter this year.  This is what you have to think about before you open a wound on any shrub, commonly called “trimming”.  If you think it may be too late, then don’t cut.  A freshly cut limb is a roadway for frost and that may kill the limb or the entire plant.


2.       Are the summer blooms already set?  Am I willing to trade no blooms (or berries) next summer for a neat shrub now?

Here’s list of some common plants and the time to cut them back:

Fall                                                     Winter                                      Early Spring                         Summer

New Wood Hydrangeas                 Butterfly Bush                     Knockout Roses                    Japanese Holly

Butterfly Bush                                  Grasses                                Japanese Holly              Old Wood Hydrangeas

Most Perennials                                Lilac                                     Perennials                              Blueberry Bushes

Blueberry Bushes                           Spiraea                                 Grasses                         New Wood Hydrangeas

Spiraea                                             Abelia                                                                             Blackberry/Raspberry

Blackberry and Raspberry                                                                                                            Barberry   

To clarify: the seasons are used loosely in this diagram, so don’t go by a calendar; go by what nature’s telling us via leaf color changes, etc.   Hydrangeas are listed in both fall and summer – please note that “New wood” is speaking to the “wild hairs” that hydrangeas may put out when it turns cooler.  Not a big deal to SELECTIVELY trim back those crazy long branches but do not do any shaping, as hydrangeas have already set the summer blooms and if you cut them back in total, you’ll not have blooms next year.

On perennials, especially bulb & rhizome perennials:  Please leave them alone until the flowers and the leaves are brown.  They put important nutrients back into the bulb and to cut them while there is still green, is robbing the bulb of important stuff.  I do not cut back any perennials until early spring and I always have a beautiful performance from the flowers in the following year. 

Please go ahead and trim black & raspberries. If you didn’t remove the canes that produced last summer, go ahead and cut them back.  Berries are produced on new canes so if there’s time before a hard frost, cut them almost to the ground.

Remove dead limbs and branches now.  You may be surprised how an unattractive tree or shrub immediately becomes beautiful when the dead is gone.  I always start with cutting the dead-ends, twigs, and branches out.  More often than not, the change is so pleasing that my pruning is done.  If you feel that you need to continue shaping you plant(s), do not remove any more than 25% of the current height/width.  When you prune any plant, it will sluff off an equal % of its roots. 

The most important thing of all – MULCH!  It doesn’t matter if it’s leaves, grass clippings, or shredded wood mulch; just cover those beds.  Mulch should never touch the trunk of trees; make sure that you leave several inches free on mulch around the base.  I blow leaves into our beds, a deep wonderful layer of leaves.  After a couple of weeks, I’ll dust the top with shredded hardwood for appearance and to weight the leaves so they don’t blow back onto the yard and driveway.  Leaves are a great additive to the soil and with wet, cold winters, they’ll breakdown and feed the dirt.    


Cheers to Fall Fever.  

Marianne CicalaComment