Pruning and application of dormant sprays to shrubs and ornamental and fruit trees are timely tasks for home gardeners during the next few weeks.
Both are best accomplished when the weather is mild enough to work comfortably outdoors and before warming causes sap to rise.
Judicious pruning of woody plants, even if there has been little winter damage, will encourage vigorous growth, promote better health and enhance appearance.
Dormant sprays are effective against many pests that spend the winter on stems, branches and in bark crevices. Because the weather was so mild early this winter, such pests could become a serious problem.
First, remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches and twigs, then make final cuts to improve symmetry. In their dormant state, the plants readily reveal defects in branch structure that should be corrected. If delayed until sap begins to rise, fresh cuts may invite disease.
Make cuts close to a branch or trunk so no stub is left. Larger limbs should be undercut first so they do not peel bark as they fall.
Avoid winter pruning of spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac and magnolia. These formed their buds last summer, and pruning now will diminish flowering potential this spring. Prune these soon after they have finished their bloom cycle.
Concentrated dormant sprays can be applied without risk to trees and shrubs while they are leafless and not in active growth; they must be used before warmth induces budding and tender leaf growth.
The best time to apply them is on a calm, sunny morning when the temperature is between 40 and 75 degrees, and when there is no likelihood of a sudden drop to freezing temperatures within 24 hours. Label directions should be followed precisely; some sprays can be used safely only on certain trees and shrubs.