Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pruning dilemmas

We had beautiful, warm weather four days ago so I felt inspired to go outside and mulch. Which I did. One thing led to another, and pretty soon I found myself snipping away dead stems on the Salvia coccinea in a front bed. In the back of my mind, I kept wondering Am I doing the right thing? Should I be cutting this away? At the base of some, new growth was already sprouting up! (Left photo.)

I didn't touch the lantanas. Some definitely had dead branches. But upon closer examination, I could see tiny green buds on some. At any rate, I quit trimming and decided to even let the salvia just be.

Yesterday, while researching turk's cap, I ran across a Dec. 23, 2006, gardening column written by Brenda Beust Smith with the Houston Chronicle. In it, she debates the pros and cons of winter pruning. Many experts she spoke with recommended that gardeners leave dying plants alone so birds and insects have a place to hide. Dead foliage may also provide insects and seeds for hungry birds. One nature lover said he likes to watch for chrysalises and cocoons of butterflies and moths that overwinter in his area.

She also talked with John Ferguson of Nature's Way Resources, who said that insects chew on spent plant tissue all winter. "The bacteria and fungus become food for anthropoids, nematodes and other insects," he told Smith. "These in turn become food for birds and other wildlife. Chewing on these dead branches also helps smaller animals maintain good teeth. The more we copy nature, the fewer problems we have."

I'm glad I stopped pruning. Sure, the straggly bed around the bird bath sure looks better. But in this case, I'd rather the birds and bugs be happy, not me.


Anonymous said...

Here in Belgium, many gardeners will have their garden 'winterklaar' (ready for winter) by mid-november: cut away every dead stalk, their garden naked before the toughest cold is yet to come.

I never do... instead, I sit behind my window in January, February, and watch the birds feed on the remaining stalks of hollyhock and evening primrose.

Oh yes, my garden will be 'lenteklaar' (ready for spring) by the end of march: only then, I will cut away some remaining stalks, but instead of bringing them away to the compost heap, I just cut those things in small little pieces, and let them decompose just were I cut them away.

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers said...

That's what I do, too! I cut up the bits of salvia stalks and dropped them right below the plant. Figure it'd all make great mulch!

Lorilee said...

I usually leave the dead foliage in place until it warms up. I also feel that it might provide a bit of extra protection from frosts that follow if I leave those twigs and leaves in place. That definitely sounds better than being lazy!

Anonymous said...

February 14 is the date I usually target for the perennial cut-back, which is just before spring growth starts in earnest in Austin. My old garden had gotten so full of mature (bushy) plants, however, that I had to start the weekend before and didn't finish until the weekend after. Whew!

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