Q. Now that it is fall, can I prune everything around the house? Even cut down my ornamental grasses?
Carolyn from Canfield
A. Well, it depends.
You should never prune a plant just because it is fall. You should always prune a plant when it is the right time to prune a plant. For example, pruning a lilac or forsythia right now means you will reduce or eliminate the blooms for next year’s show of flowers.
Our experts at Ohio State say spring is the best time to prune. This is because we want to prune when plants are growing at the fastest rates and when callus formation to protect the tree is the greatest. So, March to June is the most common and best time for most plants.
But fall is a great time to remove any dead branches, anything that is growing in the wrong direction, and other minor pruning.
Most large, deciduous trees are ok to prune in fall. Oaks should only be pruned from November through April due to the spread of oak wilt disease.
Pruning shrubs such as taxus (yew) too late in late fall or early winter can result in browning of the pruned areas come spring. Early fall (September) is the best time for the second pruning of taxus for the year.
Most evergreens should be pruned in mid-spring to early summer. It doesn’t hurt to take a few branches here or there to do your holiday decorations, though!
For fruit trees, the end of the dormant season is the best time to prune. Some orchards and some homeowners prefer to prune at the end of harvest. While this may be alright for some apples and pears, it may be detrimental to peaches and other stone fruits. Depending on the conditions, pruning cuts may not be able to heal and seal the wound. On peaches, colder temperatures may result in cracking at the pruning site. So, later winter and very early spring are your best bets.
As for those ornamental grasses, they are fine being cut down in the fall. But, there is not a requirement to do so. Waiting too long into March to prune is a problem, though, for the next year’s growth. More details on this are at: http://go.osu.edu/ornamentalgrasses
In general, you should always check before pruning. Do a basic search of the plant using “(plant name) pruning university extension” in your search.
A fact sheet or article from one of the extension systems across the country will give you a quick answer of when and how to prune that specific plant. It’s better to check than to miss the blooms.
For information on pruning basics, go to: http://go.osu.edu/when2prune
Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.