Winter Pruning

Pruning is done to reduce the size of a plant, change or maintain its shape, change its habit, and promote health. This can all be accomplished to some extent in the winter, and in some cases winter pruning is preferred.


It is generally easier to see what needs doing in the winter, when leaves are usually absent or thinner. When we are pruning for plant health that usually means removing crossing or competing branches, or making deep cuts to increase air flow and light availability to the interior of the plants. The bigger the cut, the more important it is to see what you’re doing. It’s also useful to be able to see everything when we are trying to change the shape or habit, as making a plant wider or narrower frequently involves large cuts.


Perhaps the main reason for winter pruning is that most of the plants energies are stored in the roots at this time. This means that we aren’t robbing the plant of energy when we remove part of the top, which is especially handy when we need to prune extra hard to get an overgrown plant back in scale. We rarely remove more than thirty percent of a plant, but in the winter we can cut some plants all the way to the ground if necessary. A well established plant will often grow back fast enough that the cutback is no longer obvious before the end of the next summer. Hard cutbacks or rejuvination pruning in the summer can sometimes leave the plant struggling for years.


Lastly, springtime is right around the corner. With the spring will come a burst of growth that quickly ‘heals’ the wounds and hides the cuts. Also, we know that the new growth will follow the ‘instructions’ we gave it with our pruning: growing up, or out, or from the bottom, or filling in holes.


Winter pruning is an important part of your overall pruning program. It can let you make adjustments and changes that aren’t possible during the growing season, it can make your work safer, and it can help you ‘get ahead’ before the busy spring growing season.

Compost Topdressing for Gardens

Using Compost in Your Garden

With Spring around the corner, plants and flowers will soon emerge and begin growing. To give plants the best possible growing conditions, garden professionals suggest adding compost to your gardens and planting beds. Compost is organic matter made from aerobically decomposed plant material, to be recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. The resulting soil is rich in nutrients and contains beneficial bacteria and fungi. Here are just a few benefits of topdressing:

Garden Compost Shovel

*the soil structure of the garden is improved and creates a better plant root environment;

*erosion and runoff is reduced;

*water holding capacity is improved and water loss is reduced (meaning less water is required to irrigate);

*a variety of macro and micro nutrients is supplied to the soil;

*soil pH is improved and stabilized;

*soil moisture conservation is established;

*soil temperatures are moderated and plant roots are insulated;

*natural mild herbicides are produced…



The pgarden with compost topdressingrocess is simple! Compost is spread 2-3 inches thick in planting beds around shrubs, perennials and small trees just before the growing season occurs – this is called topdressing.  Mulch is then layered on top. No need to till or dig into the beds–nutrients added from the top naturally seep into the soil to slowly provide nutrients to the roots of the plants. Late winter (mid- to late-February into March) is the best time of year to top-dress so plants can absorb organic matter as they come out of dormancy.  Topdressing is very important for plants in the garden! In fact, the Atlanta Botanical Garden adds compost to every garden, every year. Adding compost to garden beds is the best — and easiest — thing that can be done to produce a bumper crop of vegetables and bountiful bouquets of flowers.

A healthy garden starts with healthy soil! Consider adding compost to the garden this year starting now! 

Extreme Cold Weather Protection

Extreme Winter Cold Protection for Your Plants

Winter is finally here and with it comes our crazy Atlanta temperatures! Most of your landscape plants will be fine during this period but occasionally with extreme cold like we are having now some plants may show damage.   Right now the most important plants to protect are those that are getting ready to bloom like Camellias and tender plants like some tropicals that are borderline in our planting zone.  Damage will depend on how long the freezing weather lasts and the overall health and tenderness of your plants.  Mulching your landscape is excellent protection for your plants during our extreme cold. 

Plants that can be affected:

Container plants, Camellias with buds, Gardenia, Fatsia, Aucuba, palms and Lantana (perennial).

If your plant is very large then protection will be difficult or impossible.  Concentrate on the manageable plants or only a special plant or two. 

Preventative measures you can take:

Place container plants in a covered area (garage, house or shed )or place a protective covering over them making sure the foliage is not in contact with the cover .  Using stakes will help create a tent like enclosure.  The roots will get freeze damage so wrap the pot with plastic, burlap or plastic.   Placing plants against a wall or other structure will help break the wind.   Small courtyards or semi  enclosed spaces will help protect them too. 

Before it freezes (while the ground is not frozen), water your plants to help protect the roots.  Soil that is well watered will absorb heat and radiate heat.  Plants will weak or shallow roots are more susceptible to injury.  Mulching the roots helps regulate soil temperatures.

Covering your tender plants and plants that are in bud (like Camellias) will create a pocket of air to insulate them.  Ideally the cover should not touch the foliage but sometimes that is very difficult to do.  Make sure the cover also reaches the ground and is secured in case of strong winds. 

Home Depot  is selling lightweight plant covers that come in different  sizes.  They have a drawstring which will help keep them from blowing off.   Other stores and nurseries may be offering similar products.  Call before you run out to get some to make sure they are available.  You can also use sheets, plastic or cardboard boxes.   Black plastic is best  since clear will create a greenhouse and could overheat your plant.   Just remember to secure them with rocks or stakes so they don’t blow off!  Fortunately this freeze will pass through in the next couple of days and we can get back to our normal winter temperatures.  Don’t forget to take your covers off when the weather warms up to above 32 degrees.  Plants need light and will suffer if the cover is left on for longer than 2 days.



Edible Gardens

Getting Started with Edible Gardens

Over the past 3 years, we have received more requests for edible gardens , including herb and vegetable gardens. My impression is that this increase in interest has come about due to the trend and encouragement to “be more green” and the health interest for organic food. Find a spot that gets enough sun. Vegetables and fruit trees need lots of it – at least 6 hours (preferably 8) of direct sunlight a day. Improve the soil with compost to grow the healthiest plants and largest harvests from the available space. The edible gardens that actually get approved and installed more frequently are herb gardens since the plants require less space to grow and are “prettier” plants.

Popular herbs for Atlanta: Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Chives, Cilantro, Parsley, and Mint. All herbs mentioned do well planted together.  They all need full sun conditions and well-drained soil.  Start by seed in late winter inside, install grown-out plants in late Spring. For novice gardeners, most any herb is easier to grow than vegetables and fruits.  They require less space (can even be grown in container) and less extensive soil preparation. All new plants require regular watering during dry weather (2-3 times per week) and some pruning or pinching back as the plants grow.  Most herbs do not over-winter and will need to be replanted each year.

Popular vegetables for Atlanta: tomatoes, radishes, peppers, carrots, peanuts, beans, eggplant, cucumber, corn, potatoes, cauliflower, peas, onions, okra, broccoli, celery, artichokes, garlic, zucchini, cabbage, lettuce and turnips. Most leafy vegetables prefer cool weather and can be planted in Fall.  Most other vegetables can be planted in April.

Popular fruits for Atlanta:  Strawberries, Blueberries, Figs, Apples, and Pears. Plant strawberries in April; blueberry bushes in Fall; Fig, Apple and Pear trees in Fall

Plants that can be grown in containers: Herbs – most any herb. Vegetables – Tomatoes, peppers, beans on trellises, cabbage, lettuce. Fruits – Blueberry bush.