Wacky fall weather this last year caused many spring bloomers to flower out of season in November and early December. There are no timing guidelines for pruning evergreen azaleas and camellias and deciduous lilacs and magnolias twice a year. We’ll just have to use common sense and educated guesses.
Spring blooming azaleas and camellias set next year’s buds in early spring, but many bloomed earlier this fall and some are still in flower now, although many of the blossoms are showing freeze damage. I’d suggest removing all dead or damaged flowers now but waiting until March or April to trim back azalea and camellia branches. Clean up all fallen camellia flowers regularly to prevent the spread by splashing rain or sprinklers of the fungus that causes camellia blight, and replace or top mulches after all flowers have been removed. The fungal spores can live for months in old mulches. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a good spring bloom this year since last year’s buds have already blossomed.
Lilacs that bloomed last fall should be completely dormant now that we’ve had several nights of temperatures below 30 degrees. Remove all spent and dead flowers at the tip of the branches, but wait to prune one-third of the older branches back to the ground until the normal lilac pruning time in March and early April. Do the same for deciduous magnolias that also flowered at the wrong time of the year. Deciduous magnolias are pruned after bloom, but they’re unlikely to bloom again this spring so you’ll need to guesstimate normal pruning time by when new leaf buds begin to appear, which may be the only indication that dormancy has ended and the sap is rising.
If you haven’t yet pruned your roses, do it soon. Our brief winter will end the last week of January. The technique for pruning roses late in the season is different than mid-winter pruning. Roses are exceptionally vigorous growers in our climate and often do not become fully dormant even if all the leaves have been stripped and new buds and flowers are removed in late fall. The canes of tea, floribunda and grandiflora roses are normally cut back to 18 inches in mid-winter and any crossing branches or weak, spindly growth are removed. If pruning late, cut the canes back to 24 to 30 inches high since the sap may have already risen to that height.
▪ Note: the Tulare/Kings Counties UC Master Gardeners will be offering three free classes on rose pruning next week. The first is at Old Grangeville Church, 14060 Hackett St., Grangeville on Monday from 11 a.m. til 2 p.m. There are two more classes on Saturday, Jan. 20, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tulare County Courthouse, corner of Mooney Boulevard and Burrel Avenue, and the Ralph Moore Rose Garden (mostly mini roses), west Main and Hall streets. Bring your pruners and learn from the expert Master Gardeners. For details or questions, call 559-684-3343.
▪ Correction: The phone number given for the Fresno County UC Master Gardeners’ Speakers’ Bureau in the Dec. 21 column was incorrect. The correct phone number is 559-241-7515.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.