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Southern California Gardening: To Prune or Not to Prune

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Pruning can be confusing if you’re not quite sure what, when, how, or where. Here are some easy guidelines from Lowe’s Southern California garden contributor.

A well-pruned lemon tree
stub left after pruning

By Nan Sterman

To prune or not to prune: That is the question. In cold-weather climates pruning is one of the first garden tasks of spring. In our climate spring pruning is pretty much optional, though it can be helpful, and should always be done correctly.

Walk your garden and look for plants that suffered over the winter. Though we have mild winters, some plants still take a hit in the coldest months. Look for damaged leaves, dead branches, and the like. Cut them with clean, sharpened pruning shears. Always cut back to a branching point—don’t leave stumps. Leaves send the food they make down branches, not up. Stumps, then, are destined to die and can become avenues for pests and disease.

Jerusalem sage before pruning

After removing the damaged portion, step back and look at the plant. Has its shape suffered? Does it need a snip or two to balance things out? Remember, no plants should be symmetrical or even geometric. Still a balanced plant is a thing of beauty.

Refresh sages, Jerusalem sage, and other perennials once they sprout new growth from the base. Prune away last year’s branches at the lowest spot where new leaves are sprouting, or cut old branches all the way to the ground.

Jerusalem sage after pruning

Once you’ve cut away the old growth, this Jerusalem sage will triple or quadruple through spring.

Winter damage to dwarf Duranta

Remove dead branches from orange and other citrus trees. Cut off citrus water sprouts—vigorous green shoots that grow straight up instead of outward—and remove any branches so low that they touch the ground when heavy with fruits. Citruses require no pruning beyond that.

Don’t prune flower-bud-covered trees, shrubs, perennials, or vines. Those buds bring this year’s blooms. If you remove them, the plants don’t flower. If they need pruning, wait until flowering is done, then grab the pruning shears and get going.

Here’s a dwarf variegated Duranta shrub with some unsightly winter damage

Duranta after pruning

A few well-placed cuts rejuvenate the Duranta shrub. Now it’s ready for its spring growth spurt and flush of purple flowers.