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Mr. Smarty Plants - Cutting back, pruning and dividing native plants

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Thursday - April 21, 2005

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning
Title: Cutting back, pruning and dividing native plants
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I am wanting to cut back, or prune, and divide many of my native plants but don't know how. What should I do? I bought them all at the native plant sale at the center last fall. We have a family membership out there as well.

ANSWER:

There are several factors that enter in here; for instance, whether your plants are herbaceous or woody, annuals or perennials, spring bloomers or summer bloomers. If your plants are annuals, you probably want them to set and drop seed to produce new plants for the next season. In that case, you don't want to prune anything until at least 1/2 the seeds have set and dispersed. Some annuals respond favorably (some don't) to pinching off the tops to encourage them to branch and bush out.

For perennials that die back in the winter you can remove dead foliage, but extensive pruning will depend on when they bloom. For spring-flowering bushes or trees, it is best to prune after they have flowered in the spring since the flower buds are setting in the fall and winter pruning will remove them. Your safest time for pruning summer-flowering bushes or trees is in the winter--late November through early February. However, if your plants have gotten too bushy or rangy, you could probably do some judicious pruning almost anytime, being careful not to remove flower buds or too much of the plant at one time. The bottom line is that your pruning strategy pretty much depends on the plant.

You can look up information about any particular plant that you bought at our sale by going to the Native Plants Database and searching by its common or scientific name and selecting "Growing Conditions" from the menu at the top of its page. This may not tell you exactly how and when to prune for each plant, but it will give you additional information about the growing conditions for the plant. For instance, if you bought an autumn sage (Salvia greggii) plants, you will see that the old growth should be pruned severely when the spring growth begins.

 

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