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There's always work to be done in gardens

Posted: July 1, 2012 - 12:08am

One of the chores in the garden is pruning. I get many questions on when and how to prune certain plants, especially the hydrangea. But the question needs to be asked: Why prune hydrangeas? Pruning is done to reduce plant size or to reshape the plant; to remove old, non-productive branches; to remove frost-damaged leaves; or to deadhead blossoms.

So, when do I prune my hydrangea? This will depend on the type of hydrangea. Some of the hydrangeas bloom on new wood, and some on old wood. Those that bloom on old wood need to be pruned after they flower, and those that bloom on new need to be pruned in the summer.

The most common and favorite hydrangea is the bigleaf, Hydrangea macrophylla. There are other names that this plant goes by, such as French hydrangea, mop-head hydrangea, and common or garden hydrangea. This hydrangea blooms on last year’s or old wood, and should be pruned after blooms begin to fade in July. However, all pruning needs to be done by the first of August.

On a mature bush, 5 to 6 years old, remove one-third of the oldest woody stems each year. Usually, these stems are located in the center of the plant. In the spring of the year, wait until the plant puts on new leaves, and then remove old or dead branches.

Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is a large shrub that should be left to grow in its natural form. The oakleaf hydrangea blooms on old wood. So, prune it after the blooms start to decline. Again, prune one-third of the old plant material to increase sunlight and air circulation. If necessary to reduce plant height, prune the limbs back to one or two buds on a stem. This should be done in early spring to renew overgrown plants. When pruned in this manner, the plant will not have any flowers on it.

Peegee, Hydrangea paniculata “Grandiflora,” and smooth, Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle,” hydrangeas bloom on new wood. Around the first of March, prune these plants to leave only two buds at the base of each stem. The second option is not to prune the plant. These plants will put on new growth and flowers. If the plant is pruned severely, it will be smaller but will have larger blooms. If the plants aren’t pruned, it will be a larger bush but will have smaller flowers. The Annabelle hydrangea needs to be pruned back six to twelve inches from the ground each March.

Also this time of year, with the hot, dry weather, there are certain insects that start to appear in lawns. One of these is the chinch bug. Chinch bugs are a pest on St. Augustine grass; however, they can attack other types of grass. Chinch bugs are small insects. They are black with white wings on their backs, and they are about an eighth of an inch long.

There are a couple of ways to find the chinch bugs. One is by using a flotation device. This is a gallon can with both ends cut out and inserted into the ground deep enough that it will hold water. Fill the can with water and wait; in about five minutes, the chinch bugs will float to the top. Another way is to part the grass and look for chinch bugs as they move about. When the chinch bugs population is high, they are easy to see.

Chinch bugs damage the grass by sucking the juice out of the stems and runners. St. Augustine that is infected with chinch bugs will turn yellow and then brown. In years past, we could count on July and August being the months that we had to worry about chinch bugs, but over the past few years, they started in May and lasted until November.

The best control options are insecticides that contain cyfluthrin or bifenthrin. Cyfluthrin can be found in Bayer Advanced products such as Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer or Carpenter Ant and Termite Killer. Bifenthrin can be found in Ortho Max Bug-B-Gon. These products come in a granular form and a liquid form.

Charles Phillips is a retired Columbia County Extension Service agent and operates Hort Consulting. Reach him at cphillipshort@comcast.net or at (706) 836-2152.

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