From the ominous snowy landscape outside the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining” to Ned Stark’s stark warning that winter is coming in “Game of Thrones,” pop culture has taught us that winter can be scary, but seasoned Southern California gardeners know best.
Here, the fall and winter offer gardeners a chance to do things they can not do during the rest of the year and one of them is to give a cut to everything in the garden , including vegetables, herbs, ornamental trees and fruit trees.
Pruning helps cool garden spaces, repel pests, and promote additional growth in the spring. An additional benefit? The weather is better.
“You can prune without the added stress of sunlight entering and hitting interior branches,” said Justin McKeever, plant specialist at H&H Nursery in Lakewood.
Here is a look at what can be done in the garden right now.
Cut leafy greens, herbs and vegetables
This time of year is when gardeners tend to grow leafy greens like lettuce, chard and spinach and the process for pruning them is simple.
McKeever said something as basic as a pair of scissors can be used on leafy greens, and gardeners should cut from the outside (rather than the center where new growth is coming from).
Pruning can help keep plants manageable while also stimulating growth.
For most long-stemmed vegetables, McKeever recommended cutting the above knot. – or directly above where you see two horizontal leaves emerging from the plant stem.
He said it would communicate the plant to grow outward. The two nodes of the plant will effectively become branches.
“The more you prune, it actually encourages the growth of a lot of plants,” McKeever said.
How to prune deciduous fruit trees
McKeever said the same principle applies to fruit trees and that where you cut them, it will result in the growth of new branches. For example, if you have a whip – or a young tree that has only one singular stem – cutting this stem will create the presence of side branches. Cutting these side branches will result in more branches and help form the tree’s canopy.
A shorter trunk is also easier on the plant’s root system because energy doesn’t have to travel so far up the tree, McKeever said.
He said a good rule of thumb is to not cut more than a third of the total length of the main stem.
By cutting down a deciduous fruit tree in the fall before winter, gardeners set it up for success because in the spring it will have lots of new growing points in the places it was pruned, McKeever said. .
Another advantage is that the size allows better airflow through the canopy of fruit trees and an easier application of copper sulfate, a spray that can be applied in autumn and winter.
The spray helps ward off borers that might pierce a deciduous fruit tree while it is dormant, said Carrie-Anne Parker, owner of Rolling Hills Herbs and Annuals in Redlands.
McKeever said if you are making cuts larger than four inches in diameter, use sealant on the area to help keep out moisture, disease, and burrowing insects.
“It’s like when we have a break, we put a bandage to keep this area clean so that nothing else covers the wound,” McKeever said.
He said a common sealant is tar based and the Bonide company and gardeners can just apply it and let it dry. It will not hurt the tree and will flake over time.
If any stems are growing from the bottom of your fruit tree near the graft line, you’ll want to get rid of them, Parker said. She said these come from the rootstock and will not fruit.
A tip for pruning citrus fruits
Winter is usually the time when many citrus fruits complete the fruiting process.
Parker said it’s now that she’ll take a look at her citrus trees and remove any branches that might touch the ground. She will also remove fruit if it looks like it is too heavy for the branches of the tree.
Prune to avoid pests
Some sizes are less about production and more about controlling insects and diseases.
McKeever said that if the plants in your garden have leaves that touch the ground, cut them back so they’re not susceptible to fungal diseases from soil contact or splashing water.
Parker likes to cut her herbs and perennials so that the plant’s lower leaves are 4-6 inches from the ground so she can see all around the base of the plant – and if anything is growing below. .
Some grasses and weeds that grow under plants can compete with them for nutrients and can harbor insects, she said, so it’s nice to be able to see when these things are growing and pull them out.
Parker said that gardeners who tropical milkweed varieties will want to cut up the soil line and have no leaf material visible above ground during the fall and winter. She said that tropical varieties can harbor a parasite that can be harmful to monarch butterflies. She said indigenous varieties of milkweed does not need to be cut because they do not host the same parasite.
The size to grow your garden
What you prune now can be a boost to your garden later.
For some plants, you can propagate adornments. Parker said she likes to cut runners off her strawberry plants and then put those cuttings in vermiculite to grow roots. These become next year’s plantations.
Parker also said that as long as your clippings are disease free you can throw them in a compost heap and let the winter rains break them down and when spring comes you will have some fresh organic matter that you can use in your garden.
“Fall is when we can really start building for next season,” she said.