Cambrian: Opinion

Pruning your garden as you go is the way to go on Central Coast

Foxgloves in full bloom will need cutting back as blossoms fade. Foxgloves give a “cottage garden” look to local landscapes.
Foxgloves in full bloom will need cutting back as blossoms fade. Foxgloves give a “cottage garden” look to local landscapes. Special to The Cambrian

We received more than 6 inches of welcome rain in January, then an unseasonably warm February. Spring sprung early. Meanwhile, our gardens produced growth — lots of growth! Gardeners will be dealing with controlling an abundance of plant and flower materials in the coming months in order to keep their gardens healthy and happy.

Get out clipping tools, sharpen them and do some light pruning “as you go.” It will be beneficial to your plants, despite what you’ve heard. You’ve been told that late fall and winter are the best times to prune. For some deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the winter, it’s usually true.

But in our mild climate, that is not always the case. Our gardens on the Central Coast grow nearly year-around and do not always go into a deep sleep, called dormancy, as in harsher climates. Consequently, we need to continually cut back growth to maintain beautiful gardens. Some floral plants bloom year-around, and dry and dead blossoms need to be removed to keep gardens tidy.

I find that “pruning as you go” is the easiest way to keep a garden in shape and reduce water requirements. Light pruning of branches of perennials and shrubs can be done along with “deadheading”: removing spent and shriveled blossoms. If you consider the plant’s branches when you deadhead, you can cut them back to shape and revive the plant. This will stimulate the plant to create more blooms and healthy foliage. Save severe pruning for the fall.

Begin the process of pruning soon after seasonal growth and flowering is complete. Flowering shrubs can be pruned after the flowers fade. This will increase the chances of a repeat blooming. In our temperate climate, this could be anywhere from late winter to late summer. Flowers that bloom in midsummer to fall can be pruned in winter.

Late-spring and early-summer pruning creates healthier plants by reducing the vegetation and leaf surface, therefore reducing the amount of food needed to be manufactured by the plant. Prune to direct growth by slowing or removing branches you don’t want, or to “dwarf” or shape the shrub. Shaping a plant means less staking of weak branches, and less water that you must supply. Pruning defective or low-hanging limbs can be accomplished at this time.

What about fall pruning? If you continue with spring and summer pruning, you’ll have little pruning to do in the fall. This is good news. Decaying fungi spread their spores in the moist fall days of early winter. Healing of wounds tends to be slower on fall cuts. Even better for the gardener, you’ll have less fall “cleanup” to do, and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy some of the finest weather of the year.

Lee Oliphant shares her gardens and her chickens on her websites at and Email her at cambria

Tip of the Month

Pruning in spring and summer can be beneficial to you and your garden. Just follow a few guidelines.

▪  Prune after watering when there is some moisture in the ground. Do not prune on an extremely hot day.

▪  Fungal diseases spread in damp weather. Prune when the air is dry.

▪  Begin pruning branches that cross other branches or are broken or misshapen.

▪  Prune all dead or diseased limbs and branches.

▪  Clean tools after pruning with a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. This helps prevent the spread of disease.