HG: Homegrown Column April 04, 2009

I have quite a few lavender plants that are at least 4 years old. How much can I prune them down, and when would be a good time?
— Ann

You need to be a bit careful about pruning lavender.
Lavender is a bit of an “in-between” plant. It behaves pretty much like an herbaceous perennial but will develop a woody base in time like a woody shrub. Cutting an older plant back to the ground like we do most perennials sometimes can lead to trouble.
There are three ways to go. The first is to start right from the beginning of cutting the plant back hard every year. This largely prevents the plant from forming that woody base and keeps the plant smaller with lush new growth. You have to allow the plant to creep up in growth each year, but it’s a couple of inches or less.
Another way is to cut a part of the plant back (no more than one third) each year while leaving the rest pretty much alone (you can do a very light tipping of that part). This gradual approach allows the plant to regenerate new growth down low without the shock of cutting the whole plant down at once.
The last way is to let the plant grow. This is how I’ve always done it. (Hey, what can I say; I’m a lazy gardener.)
I give the top of the plant a light haircut to remove any bare stems or flower spikes from last year that detract from its appearance. The plant gets a bit taller this way, but I just plan for that.
Either way you choose, I like to prune them back early in the spring, in March.
So get out and get-r-done!

Can you give me some instructions on care of my pyracantha bush? It is all “spradly” and about 4 feet tall. I know it needs pruning and shaping, but I don’t know how or when to do it. I love the beautiful blooms and berries it produces, and so do my bird friends.
Thanks so much.
— Enid

Pyracantha aren’t really that fussy about pruning. They can be sheared if you like or randomly cut back to a side branch to maintain a more natural shape.
I know what you’re talking about regarding the shape of the plant. They can be a bit gawky when young. If you did nothing now, in time the plant would shape up just fine, but you can speed things up a bit with some judicious pruning.
If all you want to do is to neaten and thicken up the plant, just give the plant a light to medium trim. I’d cut it back anywhere from 6 to 16 inches depending on how the plant is looking at any particular spot.
Use hedge shears to do it. You don’t have to be that careful about where you’re cutting with a plant this young. This will have the immediate effect of improving the plant’s appearance by making it more proportional and symmetrical, but it will also help thicken the plant and fill any holes it may have because the plant will push out several side shoots from each branch you cut.
You could get out any time from now until the plant breaks bud to do the pruning.

When can I take cuttings off a grapevine?
— Debby

The answer to your question depends on the type of cutting you’re taking. There are two types you can do, softwood cuttings and hardwood cuttings.
Softwood cuttings are taken during the spring when the plant is growing rapidly and there’s soft, succulent growth available to cut.
Hardwood cuttings are taken in the fall after the plant has dropped its leaves for the winter. Most grapes are propagated with hardwood cuttings.
We have a sheet on our Web site that tells you how to do either one of them. Go to http://www.bookcliffgardens.com/answercenter/pg-cuttings.htm to see it.
I have to warn you: Grapes can be one of the tougher plants to root out. Because of this, do more cuttings than you think you’ll need. You’re bound to have some failure so this will help cover that.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, online at http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail info@bookcliff



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