Pruning Plants in Central Texas

When and What to Prune

by Anthonyfamilyinfo@gmail.com

Pruning is a basic and essential horticultural practice for many plants to thrive. The idea of pruning plants can be intimidating to inexperienced gardeners and at times, even a seasoned gardener. A variety of questions arise – does a plant need to be pruned? And if yes, when and how? Or what happens if a plant is not pruned or if it is pruned wrong? Some individuals may be comfortable to start chopping away, while others may be reluctant to even begin.

I must say that even after years of pruning plants in my garden, I sometimes have questions. That is when I refer to pruning resources. These are typically books, some that are dedicated to specific groups of plants, for example roses or trees. Other pruning resources address general pruning practices and include drawings or photos that are immensely helpful.

Here I will cover pruning of groundcovers, herbaceous perennials, roses, shrubs and general guidelines for pruning trees.

When and what to prune in Central Texas

There are two primary periods to prune plants in Central Texas. The majority of pruning is done in late winter. Additionally, there are some plants that benefit from late spring or late summer pruning. One of the most common times that questions come up about pruning is after a fall frost in central Texas. Can I prune now? It’s an understandable question because even after a light frost, some tender plants have damaged or brown foliage and are pretty unattractive.

Can plants be pruned in fall after a frost?

Technically yes, plants can be pruned after a fall frost but there are some very good reasons to wait. Generally speaking, it is best to stop trimming and pruning plants in August. Here is why.

1.  Pruning encourages new growth. If plants are pruned after a fall frost, it can trigger growth, especially if the weather is mild or warms up. That can definitely happen in Texas. Late fall growth would soon be killed by another frost or freeze. In the cycle of growth, plants actually need a season of rest.

2. Another reason to wait to prune is there are some perennials that add winter interest like ornamental grasses. You can wait until February to cut back their foliage, just before spring growth starts. Also, some plants like coneflower and coreopsis provide food in winter for birds.

3. There are a few plants that begin to grow new basal foliage in the fall. Some of those are herbaceous perennials, such as yarrow, Shasta daisy and hardy chrysanthemum. It is best to wait for a freeze, then cut off the old flower stems and leave the new foliage.

4. During a freeze, the dead foliage of plants actually provides insulation for the crown or base of the plant. Leaving the dead stems and foliage can affect the survival of these plants.

Can plants be pruned in winter in Central Texas?

Yes, many plants can be pruned in winter in Central Texas. But, it is important to know plant types and their growth cycle to maintain them well.

Plants can basically be categorized into two groups. Herbaceous perennials that have soft, more flexible stems. Then there are woody plants that have stiff, inflexible stems. Those can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous.

Herbaceous perennials, with a few exceptions, are plants that die completely back to the ground after a freeze. During the coldest part of the year, they look dead, but the roots are alive and in a state of dormancy.  Some examples are asters, cannas, cape plumbago, esperanza, lantana, Turk’s cap and some salvias. As temperatures begin to get warmer, the soil warms and herbaceous plants wakeup. Other plants that may need winter pruning are aspidistra, canna, ferns, ginger, foxtail fern, holly fern, liriope, nepeta and skullcap. The time to prune depends on weather. Any given year in Texas that is sometime in February through March.

When to prune plants in winter in central Texas?

Traditionally, herbaceous perennials are pruned starting around Valentine’s day in central Texas. This includes ornamental grasses. Timing varies slightly based on weather, but I try to get most of my pruning accomplished by mid-March in my zone 9a garden in Brazos County.

For trees, the best pruning time is in winter. My region has a low incidence of oak wilt, but if you live in a part of Texas that has oak wilt, prune trees starting in fall and up until February.

When to prune flowering vines, shrubs and trees

Blooming time determines pruning of some vines, shrubs, and trees. This includes quince, spirea, wisteria, and Carolina jasmine. Spring blooming trees are pruned soon after flowering. Some of these plants bloom on the previous year’s growth, so that is why to wait to prune until after flowering.

I’ve not addressed some of the blooming shrubs, the ones that grow in acidic soils. I garden in alkaline soil in my area of Texas so do not have experience with these plants.  Typically, azalea, camellia, dogwood, hydrangea, Japanese maple do not grow in my immediate area.  If you grow these plants, check with your local county Extension office for guidance.

Pruning by Month for Central Texas:

November-December-January 

  • Shade Trees; *Oak Trees in regions with oak wilt – do not prune February to June
  • Remove dead limbs, do structural pruning and remove mistletoe

February through March

  • Shrubs other than spring flowering
  • Herbaceous perennials
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Groundcovers
  • Roses

April-May (June depending on weather)

  • Shrubs after spring flowering
  • Herbaceous perennials – Fall Blooming
  • Vines: Spring flowering after blooming
  • Flowering Trees – after blooming
  • Evergreens – Needleleaf and Broadleaf

August

  • Reblooming Roses
  • Reblooming herbaceous perennials

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