Ask the Chuckster: Early springtime pruning

In this “Ask the Chuckster,” UPN Founder Chuck Marsh covers the early springtime pruning dos and don’ts.

Well, spring has arrived after our coldest winter in a while. We all want to go outside and get active in the garden after being cooped up in a frozen world for way too long. The ground may be a bit wet and sticky to dig too much till it dries a bit, so we turn to pruning as a good outdoor activity. You know, clean up some after a long winter. You can do either good or harm unless you have a horticultural strategy driving your efforts.


by UPN Founder, Chuck Marsh

Well, spring has arrived after our coldest winter in a while. We all want to go outside and get active in the garden after being cooped up in a frozen world for way too long. The ground may be a bit wet and sticky to dig too much till it dries a bit, so we turn to pruning as a good outdoor activity. You know, clean up some after a long winter. You can do either good or harm unless you have a horticultural strategy driving your efforts.

First, what to leave alone.

Do not prune your fruit or nut trees or berry bushes now! You have missed your late winter pruning envelope for most of them. It is best now to wait till mid June before pruning them again.

What you can prune in early spring.

It is fine to remove any dead or damaged wood from the winter now if you know it is truly dead. Note that these recommendations will vary with how far spring has progressed where you are. These recommendations are for the southern Appalachian mountain bioregion, where bud break is just beginning on some plants, most plants are still holding tight, and the Nanking cherries are in bloom. Do not delay pruning grapes, kiwis, or cane fruits beyond this point.

Grapes: If your grapes haven’t been pruned yet, get on it now if they are still dormant. Cut last year’s growth back to 2-4 buds from that growth’s origin point. This is a necessary annual activity for grape production that ideally takes place when the worst of winter is over and the plants are still fully dormant (late February), but can be done late (now) if necessary. Your plants will bleed after pruning this late, but it will not kill them if you do it now, and again, just don’t make it a habit. Have a drink of grape sap while you’re at it. Clean up any dead or damaged wood on the vines. Do not do a major pruning of old grape wood at this time.

Hardy Kiwi: You can follow the same procedure just described for grapes with kiwis this time of year. Kiwis will also require an early summer pruning to control rampant new growth.

Cane Fruits, blackberry and raspberry: After the worst of winter is over you can cut your year old raspberry canes back to knee height, or to the ground, depending on your horticultural strategy for growing raspberries. For blackberries, black raspberries, or wineberries, cut last year’s lateral (side) canes on your bearing canes back to 8-15” long. Prune the terminal cane back to 2’ or so past the last lateral cane.

Peaches and Plums: Actually, as your peaches and plums are breaking dormancy and beginning growth is a good time to assess any winter tip or branch dieback and remove it, because living wood is now obvious. Save any major pruning and shaping for early summer on your peaches and plums.


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