Q. Now that winter is mostly over, I would like to get some yard work done before I have to mow grass. How early can I prune my evergreen shrubs and trees?
— G. F. of Columbia
A. The pruning of evergreens starts with identification. They are not all yews or pines. You will need to identify each one to make sure you are pruning each type at the proper time. If it is a yew (Taxus species), you can prune it now that spring has started before the new growth starts. Please do not shear this shrub. Tight pruning or shearing results in very dense foliage that does not allow sunlight to penetrate into the center of the plant. You want the plant to look natural, not like a globe or cube, but allowing for slight differences in height or length of the branches. You can also prune the tip back to the feather-like new growth later in summer so the branch is not too long.
For pine trees (Pinus species), you will need to wait until June when the tips (candles) begin to grow. When the new growth has elongated, cut the tip back about halfway or longer to shape the plant. Later in the year, the location of the cut will form several buds and the pine will fill in a whorl of buds plus a tip bud and grow into a dense fuller branch next year.
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For a spruce tree (Picea species), timing is especially important. Pruning should be done when the buds have started to grow out and have just started to form new needles. This will then allow more buds to form on the lateral branches and fill in more, but also will allow for new terminal buds to form and continue with the length of the branches. If you prune this evergreen at other times, you will mess up the shape by eliminating the growth hormones, hich suppress the growth of lateral branches. Then each lateral bud will try to become a terminal bud and you will end up with a messy looking evergreen or total chaos.
Hollies (Ilex species) can be pruned any time to shape them, especially at Christmas when the berry production is high on the female plants. But for good berry production, they should be pruned before the flush of new leaf growth in the spring to prevent losing floral buds.
Rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron species) should be pruned right after they have finished blooming to prevent seed formation and not limit the production of floral buds for the following year’s flower production.
Q. I have a lot of daffodils that have just started to flower. I noticed the flowers are more numerous than before but they are also smaller. What should I do?
— H. D. of Breese
A. Your daffodils have really enjoyed their location as they have divided and there is now competition going on with all the new bulbs being produced. Eventually this division of bulbs will reach a point where they will produce leaves but will not receive enough nutrients to produce flowers. You will have to dig them up to eliminate this competition, then relocate them. Bulbs will be different sizes, and you will need to plant the bulbs shallower —about 1 1/2 the height of the bulb. You will also need to add compost or a bulb fertilizer to help the bulb to begin to have larger flowers.