Wait before pruning shrubs; Give plants 2 to 3 weeks before cutting

By Neil Sperry | Published Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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Dear Neil: We’re had a group of bad cold spells recently, and several of our shrubs seems to have been hurt by them. Their leaves are brown. New buds are appearing, but I’m wondering if I should prune the dead leaves off?

Wait just two or three weeks longer. I’m actually getting this question in multiple forms covering dozens of types of plants. The one common thread is that you really won’t know for a while.

If the leaves and the stems are all browned and shriveled, then you pretty well know that portion of the top growth is going to be lost. But there’s a good chance some of the shrubs will branch out above ground and can be reshaped fairly quickly. Other shrubs will need to be trimmed to the ground and retrained. Still others will be lost entirely. You’ll know very soon.

Dear Neil: I’ve attached a photo of a gardenia that was given to me by a very special person. What is happening to it, and how can I save it?

From your thumbnail photo it appears the plant was from a flower shop and came potted and wrapped in florist foil. As such, it may have been indoors for some period of time, and if that’s the case, it might have had insufficient light.

Gardenias need morning sunlight, afternoon shade, fairly warm conditions (nothing below 20 degrees, and that’s after they’ve been acclimated to growing outdoors) and moist, highly acidic planting soils.

In East Texas they can be planted directly into the soil, but in the rest of the state they will need heroic soil preparation consisting of a cubic yard of sphagnum peat moss/pine bark mulch blend in an elevated bed. You would need to wait until late February or March to plant it outside. In the meantime give it bright light, moisture and warm temperatures.

Dear Neil: When and by how much should I prune Double Knockout roses?

The standard answer for all bush roses is to use long-handled lopping shears to prune them by 50 percent the last week of January or the first week of February (before new growth starts). Each cut should be made just above a bud that faces out from the center of the plant. The practical side of pruning Knockouts, however, is that they are so stemmy that lopping shears might take forever. You’ll probably want to start with gasoline-powered shears and then tidy things up with the lopping shears.

Depending on where you are, be sure, too, to watch for rose rosette virus. It is prevalent on Knockouts. It causes extremely thorny stems and erratic growth and flowering. There is no prevention or cure and afflicted plants must be removed. Do some homework ahead of time. I have good information archived on my website’s home page,

Dear Neil: Are year-old grass clippings OK for tilling into a vegetable garden?

If they have been composting for a year, yes. If they have been merely laying on top of the ground somewhere and are still straw-like, you could probably use them, but do so in limited quantities. I would introduce no more than a 1/2-inch layer in any one season.

Dear Neil: I have a St. Augustine lawn that has been very healthy. Recently, however, clover has started to invade it. I’ve sprayed with 2,4-D. It kills it for a while, but then it comes back. What will kill it for good?

I suspect you’re seeing successive germination of more clover seeds that were beneath the first plants that you killed. Clover is fairly easily eliminated with the 2,4-D spray. Do not mow for several days prior to spraying. Apply it on a warm (65 degrees or warmer) day when it isn’t going to rain. Coat the leaves with it using comparatively fine droplets, and wait several days before you mow again. Try that one more time and see if you don’t get better results.

Dear Neil: When and how far can we trim pampasgrass? It has actually needed to be trimmed for several years.

If you’re trimming it to remove browned leaves, you can cut it back to 18 inches, and this is the time to do so. Use a machete or hedge trimmers, but wear long sleeves and gloves (also goggles). Those blades are wickedly sharp. If you’re trimming it to keep it shorter, it’s just going to grow right back within a couple of months. You might as well figure a way to move or remove it.

Dear Neil: Could you tell me what this is on some weeds? It showed up after a recent hard freeze.

I’ve seen this happen to a crape myrtle trunk once. It’s sap forced out when the tissues froze. The sap came out under pressure and froze when exposed to the below-freezing temperatures. In this case, this is nothing to worry about. It’s just an interesting novelty of nature.

Have a question you’d like Neil to consider? Mail it to him in care of the Wise County Messenger, P.O. Box 149, Decatur, TX 76234 or email him at Neil regrets that he cannot reply to questions individually.

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