Tom Karwin, on gardening | Seasonal pruning in the New Year – Santa Cruz Sentinel


The gardening and astronomical years

Many people enjoy the annual ceremony of changing the schedule, looking back on the previous year, anticipating the new year, and resolving to pursue new, personally productive directions. While I have a lot of ideas in this direction for myself, I was impressed with Melody Rose’s ideas for revolutions for gardeners. Here are the highlights from his article on the Dave’s Garden website (to read it all, visit and search for “resolutions”):

• Leave things a bit messy.
• Don’t waste water.
• Share with others.
• Identify your insects.

Our gardens follow nature’s annual cycles, ignoring specific dates, crossing the seasons, and responding to climatic and other influences of their unique circumstances. As gardeners, we draw inspiration from these natural processes.

Take care of your garden

At this time of year, the gardener should plan to prune his shrubs.

Pruning schedules can seem tricky, but two basic rules are useful: prune summer flowers in late winter or early spring, and prune spring flowers soon after blooming.

These rules reflect the flowering cycles of these groups. The summer flowering shrubs bloom on the current year’s growth; spring-flowering shrubs bloom on the shoot from the previous year.

The gardener must create an inventory of the shrubs in his landscape, listing them as summer or winter blooms. The gardener knowing the flowering period of each shrub could accomplish this task by working from memory. Others might search for each shrub in a plant directory or on the Internet, using either the plant’s botanical name (ideally) or its common name.

Useful print resources include the “Western Garden Book” by Sunset and “AZ Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” or “Pruning & Training” from the American Horticultural Society. Search, your public library, or your local bookstore for other books on pruning garden plants. Print or online resources could also provide detailed pruning recommendations.

Once prepared with information about your flowering shrubs, you can plan your pruning activities with confidence.

Next, consider different methods of pruning. Be aware that only gardeners, not plants, need to be pruned. Gardeners choose to prune plants for specific purposes: controlling size and shape, promoting more flowers, removing broken or dead branches, and more. Plan to prune your shrubs to achieve these goals, while respecting the natural shape of the plant. If such goals are not a priority, you can choose to ignore the size altogether.

Many shrubs can be improved in size or shape by selectively cutting off branches that reach into alleys or encroach on adjacent plants. However, with older or overgrown shrubs, rejuvenation or renewal techniques might be appropriate.

Rejuvenation pruning involves cutting all the stems of the plant to the ground. Many deciduous shrubs respond well to this approach: new stems grow in one season from well-established roots.

Renewal pruning is more systematic and suitable for multi-stem shrubs. Cut about a third of the older stems down to the ground to open up the shrub’s structure and encourage new growth from the base.

Here are examples of seasonal pruning in my garden at this time of year.

Roses include many varieties, most of which are popular in many gardens and should be pruned in late winter or early spring to maintain an attractive shape and promote flowering. Specific advice on pruning roses is available on the American Rose Society website. Go to ( and search for “pruning”.

Most gardens have spring blooming roses primarily, but a few varieties of roses should be pruned in summer rather than winter. Rambler roses, for example, should be pruned in the summer after flowering. My garden has a vigorous climbing plant, Rosa mulligani, which needs to be contained in the summer after its flowers have wilted.

Marguerite (Montanoa grandiflora). A large, upright evergreen shrub native to Mexico that produces lots of white daisy-like flowers with an attractive scent that suggests chocolate or vanilla. Each year it can be greatly reduced to stimulate new growth from the ground up.

Bolivian Fuchsia (Fuchsia boliviana ‘Alba’). It is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that can exceed twelve feet in height, growing wild in its native regions of southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. In the garden, its size can be controlled with annual rejuvenation pruning, after which it produces abundant new growth and charming flower clusters.

Flowering Current or Gooseberry (Ribes spp.), Native to California, can grow up to 12 feet tall and wide, making it large enough for many gardens (including mine). It can be cut any time after the flowers have faded in the summer until March or even April, after which it will produce new growth and flowers the following season. My garden features white, pink and red flowering streams (R. sanguineum) and a fuchsia flowering gooseberry (R. speciosum) with interesting flowers and thorns. Everything can be cut the same way.

Lewis’s Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii). This deciduous shrub, native to northern California and western North America, grows up to nine feet tall, with an abundance of white flowers that smell like orange blossom. This plant does not need to be pruned, but the renewal pruning (described above) will make it a good garden companion and promote flowering.

Salvia spp. These plants are widespread members of the large sage family. According to Wikipedia, salvias grow in Central and South America (around 600 species); Central Asia and the Mediterranean (250 species); and East Asia (90 species). Among the many species of this genus, some bloom in winter, spring, summer or fall. They stand out well in rejuvenating pruning, preferably at a time related to the specific plant’s flowering cycle. For sizing recommendations, visit the excellent Flowers by the Sea website ( and search for “Salvias by Season” or by botanical name.

Mexican Marigold (Tagates Lemonii). This popular plant can be seen in many gardens as it grows easily in sun or partial shade and produces an abundance of golden blooms with a scent that many gardeners shy away from. After its flowers fade away in the fall (varying depending on exposure), rejuvenating pruning controls its size and results in new growth and another flowering season.

Cotoneaster spp. This is another large genus with several species within the rose family, ranging from ground covers to tall, upright shrubs. Typically, pruning should be done in late winter and designed to maintain the shrub’s naturally graceful shape. For recommendations, go to the Gardening Know How website ( and search for “cotoneaster size”. If you know the species of your cotoneaster, search for it on the Internet, using Google.

Enrich your gardening days

A fundamental strategy for the comfort, enjoyment, and ultimate success of gardening is to advance your knowledge and skills in pruning plants. This task, linked to plant growth cycles, has seasonal priorities like those described in today’s column, and involves year-round awareness of the benefits of selective pinching, mowing, and pruning. A New Years resolution to consider would be to add a good book on pruning to your reading list.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Karwin is the past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and UC Lifetime Master Gardener (Certified 1999- 2009). He is now a board member and garden trainer for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To view photos of his garden daily, For gardening coaching information and an archive of previous gardening columns, visit Contact him with comments or questions at


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