Pruning shrubs is OK now, but take it easy

Backyard Q&A

September 06, 1998

Q.The shrubs around my house, especially the azaleas, are getting a little scraggly. I usually prune them in the spring but wonder if it's also OK to clip them in the fall.

A.It's fine to trim back the errant shoots of foundation shrubs, such as holly, yew, juniper and azalea, to maintain their shape. Just go easy. Extensive pruning will stimulate the shrubs to produce new succulent growth that won't have time to harden off before cold weather sets in. This growth may be winter-killed. Severe pruning will also remove flower buds on azaleas that will produce next spring's blooms.

Q.A friend gave me some very interesting purple pole bean seeds in the spring. The plants were a huge success and are still producing pods. How do I save seed for next year?

A.Bean seed is easy to save because home garden cultivars are open-pollinated and beans are self-fertile - there is virtually no cross-pollinating of blossoms.

Allow the best pods on your healthiest plants to mature and dry on the vine. The seeds are sufficiently dry when they crack rather than get mushy when hit with a hammer. Place dried seeds in a lidded glass jar and place in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any bean weevils that may be present. Then store your bean seed over the winter in a cool, dry spot.

Q.My crab apple tree is loaded with fruit, and now it's beginning to put out a few blooms. My neighbor is seeing the same thing on some azaleas. Are our plants confused?

A.Crab apple and cherry trees, azaleas, magnolias and many other trees and shrubs may produce a few blooms in late summer. They are stimulated to enter a reproductive phase by stressful conditions, such as drought, disease or borer infestation. If your tree is otherwise healthy, don't worry about your early spring.

This week's checklist

Build or buy a cold frame for your vegetable garden. Sow cool-weather crops like spinach, mustard, kale and mache by the middle of this month, and you'll have greens throughout the winter.

Dig up some of your chive, parsley, garlic and thyme plants. Pot them and bring them indoors for winter cooking needs.

Pick pears when their color turns from a dull green to a greenish yellow. Don't let them tree-ripen; they will be mushy.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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