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Learn which trees and shrubs you can prune now for more fruits and flowers this spring

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Pruning trees and shrubs now can help them flower and fruit more in spring.

If you prune this time of year, you create an invigorating process. This means anything you prune will send out more shoots and more branches.

Our plants, our trees and shrubs reach their physiological dormancy by January.

If it was consistently warm enough throughout February and March, things would begin growing and leafing out.

This doesn't happen till May or later because of our cold weather and this gives us the opportunity to start pruning now.

Before you grab your shears and start lopping off branches willy-nilly, do note that there is an art and science to pruning. First, the science:

  • Pruning removes the "terminal bud," which has hormones in it that inhibit the growth of all the other buds along that branch, also known as "apical dominance."
  • Remove that terminal bud and then all the other buds below it have the opportunity to start growing.
  • Pruning this time of year is an invigorating process, meaning that anything you prune is going to send out more shoots more branches.

Now, on to the art:

  • Pruning in the winter allows you to really see the structure of the tree or shrub because its leaves have fallen off.
  • As you approach your pruning, plan out which branches and buds to cut. When you choose where to cut above a bud, look to the bud below it and note which direction its facing. That's the direction the branch will grow.
  • You can actually imagine with your mind's eye where those branches will go and how the shape of the plant will develop over time just by pruning at the right location.

Along with art and science, for true pruning success, you need to know which shrubs and plants to prune and which ones to wait on. A way to remember is to think about when they flower.
If you have something that flowers in the spring like a lilac, forsythia or spirea, those shrubs tend to flower in May and June.

These set their flower buds the year before and set them back in the summer and fall. That means the buds are dormant, then come spring they will bloom.

If you prune now while they're dormant, you'll remove those flowers. Save the pruning for these types of shrubs after they're done blooming.

After they've bloomed in spring, you have about a six-week window before they set their flower buds for the next year.

Plants like butterfly bushes and Rose of Sharon form their flowers on new wood or new growth that happens in the spring. These bloom from summer to fall which means they put out new growth in the spring.

At the end of that growth, they'll have a flower on them. These flowering shrubs can be pruned now, because you'll be stimulating more new growth which will translate to more flowers.

As for fruit trees, like apples, pears, peaches and blueberry bushes, you also want to prune them now.

Doing so will remove some of that fruiting wood and that is okay. These trees tend to over-produce anyway, so by pruning now, you'll open it up to make a healthier tree or shrub with higher quality fruit.

Q: I'm planning a container garden for my full-sun deck and Montpelier. I'd like to grow a vining or climbing plant along the overhead bistro lights. Do you have any recommendations? Is it possible to grow perennial varieties in a container or do annuals do better in a container? - Emily, in Montpelier

A: Design questions like this are always great to take on now, so you'll be ready to go in the spring.

Annual vines would work best in Montpelier which is in a Zone 4 climate. You would need to replant, each year, hence it's "annual" status.

Some annuals like morning glories or a cardinal climber, which has beautiful red flowers and deeply serrated leaves could look great growing up those bistro lights. Another is the Black-eyed Susan vine. One small variety sets flowers in cream, orange and red color.

All of these plants can be pruned so they stay as one stem all along the lights and create a beautiful accent on your patio.

If you do choose a perennial vine, it would have to be protected in the winter to survive in a container.

The best perennial would be clematis and then in the fall, cut the plant back and then remove that container to over-winter in a basement or garage where it can stay around freezing, and then bring it back next year.

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.