Now is the time to prune perennials, plant trees

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2009

February is my favorite month to prune perennial plants and to plant shrubs and trees. As a general rule, most perennials are in a somewhat dormant state this time of year, so planting them now allows an adjustment period before the demands of growth set in.

If you go

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2660 Sherman Ave., will give away trees beginning at 8 a.m. Friday. Species will include willow oak, bald cypress, cherry bark oak, nuttall oak, water oak, dogwood and loblolly pine. 

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As far as pruning goes, February is a safe month to accomplish reshaping, resizing or just tidying up perennials. We know pruning stimulates new growth, but by the time most plants send out new growth, our weather conditions are beyond the point when we worry about a freeze or hard frost affecting any new, tender shoots.

There are, of course, some exceptions to pruning in February. For example, one would not prune an azalea until after it has had a chance to complete its bloom cycle. But, for most perennials, February is fine.  

Back to planting trees, though: Did you know that in section 5, Chapter 161, of the 1926 Mississippi Code, the state and county boards of education were directed “to set aside a special day each year in the public schools on which day ornamental and shade trees, flowers, etc., are to be placed where practical on the grounds surrounding all public school houses?” Later, the second Friday in February was firmly adopted as the day on which Mississippians would observe Arbor Day. The national event is celebrated in mid-April.

So, if you want to celebrate our Mississippi Arbor Day by planting a few trees this year, you can actually begin Friday with a trip to our local United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service office at 2660 Sherman Ave. The NRCS staff, along with the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation commissioners, will give away free trees beginning at 8 a.m. and will continue until the supply is exhausted. Species will include willow oak, bald cypress, cherry bark oak, nuttall oak, water oak, dogwood and loblolly pine. 

The trees the NRCS office gives away each year are bare-root trees, so it is best to plant them as soon as possible to prevent the roots from drying. In fact, if you plan to pick up some of the free trees Friday, you might want to review the following tips on planting bare-root trees:

• Soak the roots in water for three to six hours. 

• Dig the planting hole wider than necessary, so the roots can spread without crowding. Remove any grass within a 3-foot circular area. To aid in root growth, turn the soil 3 feet in diameter.

• Plant the tree at the same depth it stood in the nursery. Partially fill the hole, firming the soil around the lower roots. 

Shovel in the remaining soil and firmly pack it. Construct a water-holding basin around the tree, and give it plenty of water.

• Place a 2-inch-deep mulch area 3 feet in diameter around the base of the tree, but not touching the trunk.

• Water the tree generously each week during the first year.

Good luck and happy Arbor Day!

John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at