Get Better Plants When You Time Your Pruning

Schedule your pruning chores? You may, or may not, know that there are optimal times of the year when we prune our plants. If you don’t know, please read on and I hope the information helps you.

What does Pruning do to a Plant?

pruning your plants
Typically, we like to wait until after the holidays have passed before doing any heavy pruning. Heavy pruning can be defined as cutting back more than one third of a plant. (Stock photo via barockschloss, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Every time you make a cut on a plant, you direct it to grow. Surprising, right? But you do have that power. This includes cutting back a wayward branch on a Distylium or cutting a handful of Zinnias to bring into your home. In order to do our plants justice, we want to ‘time’ this garden chore. Why? You have made a cut and the plant puts out new growth. The new growth needs 8 weeks to ‘harden off’, which is a fancy horticultural term that means the new growth becomes acclimatized before harsh conditions occur.

Ask Yourself a Question First?

Why are you pruning your plant? Is it above the windows, into the gutters, in front of a door? Taller than you think it should be? Too too large for the space? Those are not good reasons – someone did not choose wisely. Make a better choice and move this plant to a space where it can grow well, without trimming maintenance from you or anyone else. Design your Landscape will help you make better plant choices.

Pruning is extra work for you and often not necessary. There are dwarf varieties of almost every single plant on the market. We are moving toward less maintenance in the garden and less trash in the landfills, even if this is ‘trash’ that composts. Your time could be better allocated! And if compost is your goal, don’t send it to the landfill, keep it on your property.

schedule your pruning
Schedule your Pruning Chores

Best Times to Prune

Ultimately, the best time to schedule major pruning cuts on our landscape plants while a they are in dormancy. Most plants are dormant in late winter, as bud break occurs early spring. But with weather changing on an hourly basis and less predictable than in the past, this means you must be a weather-watcher in order not to cause damage. If you prune and we have warm weather, the plants will grow. IF we get another hit of cold weather, all that new growth will die. This is exactly what happened to local Hydrangeas in the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022. The ups and downs of cold weather caused severe damage or wiped out many shrubs.

Other Times to Prune

Also good times to prune would be in the dead of winter, when you believe that we will have extended cold – in other words, a normal weather pattern. We do not have typical weather patterns any longer, so you must be very careful or you will damage your plant.

And feel free to remove dead, dying, diseased or damaged plant material any time you discover it. The plant certainly doesn’t need it and, in some cases, it may cause further damage.

If the Plant Blooms

If you decide that your blooming plant needs a cut or two, schedule your pruning very wisely if you like those flowers. Know when your plant blooms – winter or early spring plants can be safely pruned up to 6 weeks after bloom. This way you won’t lose the blooms for next year. Summer or fall bloomers are considered blooming on new wood and you can prune accordingly.

Please Don’t Prune During this Times

There is a period in the late summer, early fall (depending upon the weather) when we and your plants would rather you not go through the garden cutting things up. The reason for this is the plant’s need to push new growth. Give the plant 8 weeks before predicted cold weather, from the time you make your cuts. The plant will ‘harden-off’ the new growth within this 8-week period and will survive your pruning.

During the heat of summer is another problem time for plants. The plant is under stress – hurting from too much sun, humidity and not enough water. Do not add more stress, do not prune and cause the plant to grow more while it is struggling.

What is the hired ‘Landscaper’ Doing?

Lots of ‘landscapers’ don’t think you will question them or, if you do, they will make you feel stupid for asking. After all, this is their job and they should know. The vast majority do not know, so you need to be on your toes. I will take you as a student and help to train you, but if you don’t care, I don’t want you as a client; that is how important plant health is to me. If he/she is ignoring this rule, you need to find someone who knows what he/she is doing. Someone ‘cleaning up’, (i.e. pruning), your landscape within the 8-weeks before cold weather is, without a doubt, harming your landscape – and for pay!! Hire someone who knows how plants work and will correctly schedule your pruning!

If you prefer to learn the correct way to prune your plants, come take a short 2-meeting class. We will meet for a class on what to do first; the second meeting will be in a yard perfecting what we have learned. The Pruning class will be taught Winter 2023.

shady garden plants

Plants for Shady Yards

Need plants for your shady yard? There are all types of shade – afternoon, morning, noon, that caused by trees, caused by shrubs, caused by other buildings. What type and how much do you have? This is the key to making sure your plants survive. The other important key to survival is water.

The type of shade and what causes the shade is a huge survival clue. A plant under tree or shrub shade means that plant has competition: a tree drinks a lot. It is a big bully in the landscape with it’s deep roots and it’s large frame to satisfy. Give each plant the space it needs without having to resort to fights.

Do you have a building creating a shady yard for plants? Does the building get sun, but the plants are in the shade? That building draws in heat during the day and then releases it at night. This causes stress to a shady yard plants. While you may think the shade is protecting them, they might be cooking!

You buy a plant that is ‘very hardy’ in your planting zone and site situation, and assume it can live without mulch. Wrong! Even your shady yard plants need mulch to keep the ground temperatures and moisture levels more even.

And, as always, if your plants are newly installed, they need water, even in the shade.

I get asked all the time, ‘I have too much shade! There are no plants that survive without sun.’ Watch and learn your site situation, add irrigation and move plants around if they aren’t happy. It might take some time, but all great gardens do take planning and time. You can have a shady yard with marvelous plants you will enjoy for years.

Landscape Design

Design your Landscape

Design your Landscape will teach you how to re-work a part of your yard or create new areas of interest. In this exclusive workshop, you will learn what plants to add to the existing yard to make it better. I have had students take this class multiple times to complete other areas of their landscapes.

Your garden should be more than buying a plant and dumping it into a hole you have dug after you get home. It is thinking about what you expect your landscape to do for you and your home. When you design your landscape, you use plants that fit your site and that go together well. It is not about planting the same plant everywhere or without concern as to whether it will survive. Planning your landscape takes all of these into consideration: owner, owner’s expertise, home, surrounding neighborhood, survival and site assessment, plant availability, conservation, moderated use of invasive and/or non-native plants, fragrance, bloom time and sustenance for pollinators. Whew! that is a lot, but you can do it! And you will be happier with the outcome.

I have taught landscape design to both professionals and home-owners for over thirty years. You should be able to complete a new portion or update your yard in this class. Learn the Secrets behind Creating a Successful Landscape Plan

This is a slightly accelerated class and you do have homework: measuring your space and researching plants. TBD Winter 2023.



create a blooming garden

Love Flowers? Create a Garden with Blooms All Year!

How do you create a blooming garden? In our upcoming workshop, we will help you do just that.

What is a blooming garden?

Create a blooming garden

If you have had my Blooms class (and you will need it for this new workshop), you already have a good knowledge of all the plants that bloom in our area. Now the question becomes: how do I create a blooming garden? How do I put it all together? How does it all work together and not end up looking like a jumbled mess? Can we really combine all those textures, colors, sizes, plants types and coordinate bloom times and colors and make it look good? And, can we have something blooming in each season or, even better, each month? The answer is yes, but it takes some work. Are you up to it? Let me teach you the particulars while you work on a section of your landscape. Then you can move on to larger garden sections.

The Process

  • Choose a specific area to re-design
  • Take measurements and ‘before’ photos
  • Make note of existing plants and what can be relocated
  • Take a site assessment – if you haven’t done this in the past, you aren’t gardening
  • Research for plants that match your site requirements
  • Plan your combinations based on your research
  • Install and enjoy your new plants

The ‘Fun’ Part

To create a blooming garden is similar to a work of art. Think about creating a four-season container with several plants. You have limited space, the container won’t be moved so you have a precise set of growing conditions/circumstances. But you do want it to look great all year. If you choose the correct size container, you may only have room for 6-7 plants that cannot fight, must stand out on their own and look good with minimal maintenance.

To have a garden designed so that it looks great 99% of the time means you have created something you can enjoy all year. And isn’t that a great goal? Take our class and you will create a blooming garden Home and Garden Workshops & Classes or Contact us for more information.

Read more: Love Flowers? Create a Garden with Blooms All Year!

Discover all of the Remarkable Seasonal Blooms for the Piedmont

Sweet Pea flowers – early Spring

Blooms class shows you what is in flower every season of the year in the Piedmont. We have the luxury of having a garden full of flowers all year long – as long as you plan!

Blooms – the class

This class allows you to sit, watch and learn which plants to add to our gardens for a succession of blooms. Plants come and go in today’s market. What has always been grown in our gardens, might not handle the climate change affecting our area. There will always be newer cultivars, colors, shapes, textures. Some gardeners want tried and true, some want new and different. With each decision will come many more.

I talk about each and every plant I show you on a PowerPoint presentation. I will answer as many questions as I can and share information gained through experience. Gardening since the age of 2, every year I learn more about the gardens around us. I can, through this and my other landscaping classes, make you the best gardener you can be!

garden blooms
Hellebore flowers – Winter

What to do next?

Well, you can do a lot of research, figure out what is in bloom with your site situation in each season, plan the flowering sequence, colors and textures and then try to buy locally.

Or, you can take our class, Blooms

plants for shade gardens

Plants for Shade Gardens – Make Choices that Survive

Choosing plants for shade gardens can be tricky. Here in the Piedmont we are normally faced with morning, noon or afternoon sun. But with trees (those in your yard and neighboring yards), buildings and large shrubs, the sun/shade conditions can be difficult to manage. This article might help with your shade qualification.

Plants for Shade

Shade Plant Considerations

Does your garden space have full or partial shade? What time of the day is the partial shade? Is it dry or wet shade? When is it dry or wet? How long does it stay wet?

Plants for shade gardens might struggle. Without any sun, your plants will grow but might not thrive. The other issues are the same for sun or shade: exposure to winds, salts from de-icing during winter, soil structure, etc. It is important to note that not only will shade present problems, but there are so many other issues.

Take a class

Plants for Shady Yards is a short class that will discuss ways to help your garden survive and how your landscape can change throughout the year. Come join us! Plants for Shady Yards.

full sun plants

Garden in Full Sun? Here are some Plant Suggestions.

Choosing plants for gardens in full sun can be tricky. Here in the Piedmont we are normally faced with morning, noon or afternoon sun. But without trees – you really need a few trees! – a lot of sun can be challenging to gardeners.

full sun plants
Full Sun Plants

Full Sun Considerations

Your landscape will always do better with irrigation when nature doesn’t help. Without shade or water, your plants must be able to live without protection. But you also need to consider other issues: exposure to winds, salts from de-icing during winter, soil structure, etc.

What we will Discuss

Plants for Full Sun Gardens is a short class that will discuss ways to help your garden survive the harsh conditions and how your landscape can change throughout the year. We will talk about as many plants as we can – many you already know and grow, hopefully several new ones to add. Come join us! Home and Garden Workshops & Classes Contact for additional questions.


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full sun plants

Plants for a Full Sun Landscape

Plants for full sun yards are hard to find. That much sun can brutal. You might need supplemental help in the way of irrigation for the first few years. You can also plan to add a shade tree or two.

For full sun situations, think about open prairies – yes, grasses. Now, most people I meet do not want me to design and plant a prairie in their yard. However, a few ornamental grasses will give you color, movement, interest (in how they change over the season) and food for birds.

Next, you want to consider drought tolerant plants in full sun. We are beginning to see drought tolerance ratings, as more people turn to low water use landscaping. So, depending upon your situation you might need different drought tolerance in your plant selection. For example, plants at the top of a slope will not get any benefit from a rain unless you have amended the bed.

No matter what you ultimately decide to plant, the plants are like babies when first planted. They rarely can survive full sun and no water all on their own. NCSU suggests using supplemental irrigation for the first two years. This will ensure your new additions have the equivalent of 1″ of rain each week. After this time period your new plants should be able to withstand your full sun situation.

This class will discuss a few plants you might not have considered for your full sun yard.