Timing is Everything—Landscape Maintenance in January. Let The Light Shine In

People ask, “What should I do in my yard in January and February? Is it time to prune the shrubbery? What else should I do?” Here are some of the treatments that I provide for my clients this time of year. It also occurred to me that I am one of my clients, thanks to the suggestions of my sweet wife.

Many of our evergreen trees this time of the year have lots of brown spots     and begin to appear straggled. The trees and shrubs grow luxurious foliage in the summer which shades out the growth inside the plants. In the winter, a good thing to do is to prune the trees and trim out all of the brown and unsightly debris. Here is a picture of a cripsii cypress that has been carefully pruned and cleaned. Notice all the places where the light can shine in. The tree will begin to grow and fill in during the spring and summer.

evergreen-1

This cripsii cypress in January has been pruned and cleaned to be ready for spring growth.

Mid January to early February is the optimum time to prune boxwoods. The lateral buds in the boxwood are waiting to grow but the apical buds (those on the tips of the stems) need to be removed before new growth begins in the spring. To see how this actually works, read a short article titled “The Basics of Pruning that I wrote a number of years ago.

Pictured below is a prized boxwood belonging to one of my clients. He said, “That’s my pride and joy. I haven’t allowed anyone to touch it because no one seemed to know exactly how to do it.”

But I knew what to do—I’ve been doing it for over thirty years. It is a job to be performed by hand, with pruning shears. Power pruners should not be used on a nice plant like this.

boxwood-1

This boxwood needed pruning and shaping to let the light in and to thereby gain strength

Pruning took hours, but if you look at the plant in this picture you will see that it has retained the potential for its free-form shape but has also had the canopy of top growth lightened up to allow light to filter in and encourage inside growth and stem strengthening. Also notice that I am in the process of spreading lime which will help to neutralize the acid in the soil and make the plant more receptive to fertilizer in March.

boxwood-2

Boxwood plant has been carefully pruned and I’m adding lime to sweeten the soil.

As I write this article I have found a theme in winter duties—allowing the light to shine in.

Our next job was to trim the liriope (monkey grass) to remove last year’s growth and to allow the light to better reach the new growth in the spring. We have found that a weed eater does a most efficient job of this and that we can clean up with a rake and a blower. The liriope that remains after cutting should be about two inches high. It is also good to add lime to this plant in the winter.

trim-liriope

January is a good time to trim liriope (monkey grass). This will give more light to the spring growth and allow it to grow freely.

Back at our home on Oakwood Street, my wife and I decided to tackle the dwarf yaupon hollies that are getting a bit overgrown. Again you will see that the canopy of leaves is not allowing the light to shine in. To quote Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

yaupon-3

The dwarf yaupon holly is overgrown and the inside growth is week. It needs pruning for appearance and strength.

After talking about it, we decided to get a bit radical on these plants. I pruned them for light, growth, and shape instead of worrying about how they will look for the next six weeks. I have found that it doesn’t hurt at all to cut the hollies radically because they will grow right back and will look better than ever.

yaupon-1

The yaupon holly after drastic pruning. With a little warmth and spring weather this plant will be magnificent.

I hope this information helps. There are a couple of other articles that you may be interested in:

Deadheading and pruning hydranges in January
Prune and trim an overgrown bonsai tree

Thank you for visiting my site and if you like what you see, tell your friends. I started this site almost 9 years ago with the goal of answering questions that I found myself answering frequently. There are many articles on this site and you may find the search feature helpful. – John Schulz

Late January or February—Time to Prune Boxwood and Liriope

I love boxwood. By and large they mind well. I appreciate that trait in a plant, but one does have to respect them. Boxwoods perform best when pruned in the early part of the year. That doesn’t mean that they must be pruned, mind you, but if you plan to prune them now would be the time.

I have been tending to this particular planting for more than twenty years. Last year we didn’t do any pruning—just let the hedge thicken up—but this year it was time for a good manicure. The planting is doing well.

A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7

A well-tended boxwood bordered courtyard. Picture taken after pruning on February 7

Here is another view of this lovely courtyard

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

One of the main purposes of pruning the boxwood other than shaping them is to make “holes” to allow light to enter and to help form leaves on the inside of the plant canopy. Without this introduction of light the growth will become weak and droopy. Here you can see inside the plant. In a month or two the new growth will fill in the bare spots and the plant will be happy and healthy.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

A second view of the boxwood-bordered courtyard after pruning.

If you stand back and look at the completed pruning job, you will notice the holes but they won’t be offensive and will close in rapidly. This makes for a healthy plant.

Recently pruned boxwood showing "holes" to provide light for the inside growth

Recently pruned boxwood showing “holes” to provide light for the inside growth

While we are on the job and have the tools at hand, it is time to prune the hydrangeas. Click here for a previous article on pruning hydrangeas.

Hydrangea pruned first part of February

`Hydrangea pruned first part of February

Mondo grass (ophiopogon japonicus) and Liriope (in the south we refer to it as “monkey grass) enjoy a cutting back this time of year. As with the boxwoods, this allows light in to promote new growth. Here is an uncut mondo grass clump.

mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned

mondo grass (ophiopogon) winter growth unpruned

We have found that even though it makes a mess, a good weed eater is the best way to cut the mondo grass. I like to leave maybe two or three inches of the old growth sticking up. The same goes with liriope pictured below.

Liriope (aka 'monkey grass') cut back in February

Liriope (aka ‘monkey grass’) cut back in February

The job is done and everything looks good—but not as good as it will look by the end of March.

Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February

Boxwood topiary with mondo grass border pruned around the first of February

For lots of  other johntheplantman articles on pruning click here.

As usual, I would just love for you to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

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