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Know the bloomers and when to prune

By Terry Rector

There’s another two weeks until spring officially gets here but many woody plants that bloom on the previous year’s growth got an early start this year. That’s certainly not anything rare for us.

Once those bloom buds that formed last summer got enough total hours of cool weather, all they needed was a period of warmth to begin the reproduction process anew.

I use the term “cool” rather than “cold” because it’s temperatures above freezing but below about 45 degrees that account for the necessary chilling effect to get this type plant set up for blooming. Thus azalea blooming was a tad early; ditto for the usual early bloom fruiting plants like peach, plum and blueberry.

Pear, both the ornamental Bradford and the eating kind, also get triggered into early bloom with early warmth but their bloom buds are not borne on the previous year’s new growth. Pear and apple trees have bloom spurs. These structures are scattered over limbs of several years of age.

There are new spurs put on new growth, but each spur continues to bear blooms and fruit for several years. The spurs slowly die out as new ones replace them. Just to verify Nature’s flexibility, I suppose, plum trees bloom on spurs as well as the previous year’s wood. 

Many of our favorite bloomers develop their flower buds on the current year’s new growth rather than last year’s. Current year’s growth and subsequent blooming happens quickly on some plants such as roses. But we never worry about a late freeze killing the blooms of crepe myrtle or althea or any of the later summertime bloomers.

Among the species we raise for fruit, muscadine also blooms and fruits on current year’s growth. And harkening back to last week when I referred to fig trees as “weird,” recall figs put on two crops each growing season; one on the previous year’s wood and one on the current year’s. Time runs out every fall to prevent two fig harvests, but the trees give it a try.

By the way, most all of the big trees we grow such as oaks and elms also bloom on new growth, that of the current year. And yes, they all do bloom. Acorns are seeds, created by pollination.

The main reason to keep up with which plants bloom where and when is understand where and when to prune. Fruit trees are pruned to let in lots of sunlight and air and to keep fruit down to a reachable level. But the person pruning must leave plenty of last year’s wood and plenty of spurs because that’s where the fruit will be.

Since rose bushes bloom on current year’s growth, we cut them way back in later winter to create lots of new growth that will bear blooms.

Some people do the same with crepe myrtles for the same reason while other folks refer to such as “crepe murder” because it eliminates the winter beauty of the tall twisting trunks.

I’ve grown too old to take a side on that one.