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pruning_flowers(MCT)—Pruning is good for a plant — but only if you do it properly and at the right time.

“Know the characteristics of the plants you intend to prune,” says retired Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Jim Orband in Yorktown, Va.

“Are they broad-leaved or needled plants? Are they a spring or summer bloomer?

“A general rule of thumb is to prune a plant directly after its blooms. When a plant is a rebloomer as in azaleas or lilacs, or a continuous bloomer as in roses, pruning after a flush of blooms stimulates the plant to continue its blooming habit.”

Pruning is not about topping a tree, stubbing back a crape myrtle or shearing an evergreen, Jim stresses. Healthy pruning allows a plant to pursue its natural growth habit.

To keep your plants healthy, use Jim’s universal pruning tips:

• Make sure your tools are clean to avoid spreading disease and that they are sharp to avoid crushing plant material.
• Cut ¼ inch above the bud and parallel to the bud at a 45-degree angle.
• Leave the branch collar (point where a branch joins the trunk or branch) when making a pruning cut.
• Do not use pruning paint; air best heals a wound.
• Remove rubbing and crossing branches.
• Remove co-dominant leaders, or where a tree has more than one single main stem.
• Remove dead, diseased, damaged and dangerous branches.
• Remove water sprouts, which are shoots that come up from the trunk or branches.
• Remove branches that are crossing back through the center of the tree.

When Jim teaches pruning classes or answers questions on public radio (Hear/Say with Cathy Lewis which you can stream live online through in Norfolk, Va.), Jim also shares how to cut ground covers so they flourish. In his Yorktown yard, Jim grows mondo grass as a front yard lawn.

“Mondo grass can make a wonderful, low traffic, sustainable ground cover in your landscape,” he says.

To establish mondo, which is cold hardy to zones 5-6 in protected areas (against a house or under a tree) and spreads by underground rhizomes, start with plants placed every 6 to 8 inches apart in soil amended with 2 inches of organic matter worked into the top 6 inches of soil. Periodic weeding is needed until the plants form a thick covering within three years. Once mondo is established, it needs no fertilizer, no pesticides or herbicides, no water or no mulching.

Jim cuts the top 4-6 inches of the mondo in May, allowing it to send upnew green foliage for a fresh seasonal look. You can learn all about mondo grass through growers Monrovia at and Mondo Grass at

Kathy Van Mullekom is gardening and home columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

©2013 Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services