Grounds maintenance activity

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.

Landscape Maintenance


[Original Title “Maintenance is Key”, Published in Atlanta Home Improvement Magazine – Oct. 2006, 2007, 2008]

Once your landscape is planted, make sure to keep it beautiful

How exciting! You have finally made the investment in the creation of a beautiful landscape or new garden area! Now what? It looks so beautiful, but how do you keep it that way? If you are like most homeowners, you opted for a low-maintenance landscape.  Hopefully it will grow into being low-maintenance; however, initially, it will take more care to get established.

 So what do you do? First you need to be familiar with your new plant materials and their individual care requirements. These include watering, fertilization, pruning, and pest control. If you do not have this knowledge, refer to a good resource such as your landscaper, your county extension service, a reference book, or the Internet. Some landscapers offer consultation services for a small fee. Once you are armed with this information, then you can create your maintenance plan.


Water Well

Water will be the most critical factor in establishing your new landscape. More plants die from either too little or too much water than from other factors. 

  • First, be sure to check for local watering restriction updates on the MALTA Web site, Currently, hand watering is allowed for 25 minutes a day on an odd-even scheduled between midnight and 10 a.m. Odd numbered addresses can water Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and even numbered on the other days.
  • Early morning is the best time since watering in the evening can invite the growth of fungus.
  • Newly sodded or seeded lawns will require more frequent watering than trees and shrubs. The goal with sod and seed is to keep them continually moist (but not water-logged) for the first 2 weeks, and then can be stepped back to 3 days per week for the remainder of the growing season. Because of this, check on local restrictions before laying down a new lawn.
  • Trees and shrubs require 3 to 8 minutes once to twice daily (depending upon how quickly your soil dries out) for the first two weeks. Be aware that watering times and frequency will vary with the weather.  Less water is required during wetter, cooler months.
  • Pay close attention to each plant to see if it is telling you that it needs more water or less water.  A wilting plant can also mean too much water.  First check the soil 1 inch below the surface at the roots to see if it is wet or dry.  If still very wet, do not apply more water.  The soil may even need to be further amended to help with drainage.


Food for thought

Fertilization is also important in helping plants and grass to survive and thrive. 

  • A time-released type fertilizer should have been applied with the installation.  Some specialized fertilizers exist for certain types of plant materials such as annual flowers and acid-loving shrubs which includes Azaleas. However, a general fertilizer formulation of 10-10-10 can be used with most all plants and grass. If a fertilizer was not applied at installation, apply as soon as possible.
  • Always refer to the fertilizer manufacturer’s recommendation for application on the package. It is possible to damage plants and grass by applying too much fertilizer. It is recommended that grass be fertilized throughout the growing season. Trees and shrubs should be fertilized no less than twice per year.


Growing grass

The highest maintenance plant type is grass, which refers weekly mowing during the growing season. Newly installed sod and seed should not be mowed for two to three weeks following installation. New sod is ready to mow when it is growing and has rooted well (test by lightly tugging on a few sod pieces). New seed is ready when the majority of the seed has grown in and is not pulled out by the mower wheels passing over it. The cutting height will depend upon the type of grass. Ask your landscaper or refer back to a good reference source for the proper mowing height. 


Pruning time

Tree and shrub pruning requirements will be based on the type of plants and their rate of growth. Many evergreen shrubs (such as holly and cleyera) will require frequent pruning and can be pruned during most times of the year. Some flowering shrubs (such as hydrangeas and azaleas) should only be pruned in spring and summer in order to avoid pruning out the flower buds for the next season. Perennial plants can be pruned to the ground when their foliage completely turns brown usually late summer to fall.


Weed trimming

Weeds are a maintenance nightmare. Pre-emergent products exist to aid in decreasing the emergence of weeds from seed. However, it is important to use the proper product since most pre-emergents will also prevent or impede growth of new sod or flowers. Do not apply a pre-emergent on grass seed, since it is meant to prevent seeds from growing.  Common pre-emergents can be applied over well-established lawns and shrubs or mulched beds. 

If weeds are present, a post-emergent can be carefully applied to the weed. Most post–mergents (weed killers) that are commonly bought and used are non-selective, which means that they will kill or damage any plants whose foliage is sprayed. Therefore, be very careful not to spray the leaves of shrubs and trees, or the blades of grass. If weeds are very close to desirable plants, it is best to pull them by hand, taking care to get the roots of the weed. Additional pests are disease and insects. Monitor your plants and consult a good resource to diagnose any problems. Treat any problem as soon as it is detected.  There are also products for prevention of disease and insect damage. As always, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s label for directions as using any product.

Maintaining your newly installed landscape or garden does seem like a lot of work, but it can be accomplished successfully with knowledge, time, and care.  If you are lacking in any of these areas, a professional landscape contractor can help. Being familiar with your landscape materials and maintaining them with proper watering, fertilization, pruning and pest control will bring you joy and pride in your home for many years. So Happy Maintaining!