Now that’s some prime spruce pruning!

Well, summer is half over. I don’t measure by the solstice calendar, I measure by June, July and August; that’s summer!

By late summer, most of the spring bloomers have already set their buds for next year’s bloom, so pruning for those types of plants is too late. Always start your pruning project by first removing any dead or broken stems and branches, then assess the entire shrub before beginning. Limit the removal to no more than 1/3 of the plant in any year.

Correct pruning seems so confusing that many gardeners simply just avoid it. I am sensing some head nodding out there. Let’s talk about the two main types of stems that our shrubs have – opposite and alternate bud arrangement.

Opposite stems — like the lilac and hydrangea — means the leaves/buds are directly across from each other on the stem. Alternate means the leaves/buds are at an angle from each other on the stem. Each type of stem is pruned differently. The easiest way to remember, is to simply cut at the angle of the buds. If they are across from each other — then prune straight across, if at an angle for an alternate bud stem, then cut at an angle. Simple!

When pruning alternate branches, make sure you cut at an angle so the top bud you are leaving points outward, to the edge of the shrub. With opposite bud, this does not matter.

The next factor is how close to the bud do you prune? Too close and the bud will dry out. Leaving too much stem above the bud may not signal it to grow out. The internet has many good illustrations to look at before starting. You can always cut back a long wayward stem and use it as a practice stem, perfecting your cuts right there at your computer desk with your pruners.

Tip pruning evergreens is a practice used to thicken up the tree. Often 1/3 of the new growth is pinched back when in the soft stage. Personally, I prefer to leave them natural shaped. Extra thick and dense branching limits air flow which is especially critical for the health of the tree.

Have you ever noticed a tall spruce with a really thick branchy top and the lower branches are looser and more spaced? That, my friend, was the work of a tip pruner years ago. Go have another cup of coffee and skip that job! If you insist on being a tip pruner, you should stop once you cannot reach the entire tree.

Blue Spruce (Picea pungens), does not tolerate humid weather. Blue Spruce is native to arid mountain regions, not humid summer conditions like we often experience.

Air flow is essential to maintain healthy evergreens.

Keeping evergreens pruned a few feet off the ground reduces their chances for disease, namely Rhizosphaera needle cast. Early symptoms are interior needles dying on the lower and inner regions of the tree, moving upward.

Spruce, like pines, will naturally shed needles like a deciduous tree sheds leaves. Normal needle shed will have a pattern of browning, about equally around in the interior.

Disease typically will not have a symmetrical pattern. Count me in as one who also loves Blue Spruce, but it simply isn’t a good choice for Minnesota. Instead the U of M Extension recommends planting Concolor Fir or White Fir for that blue-green foliage color that we desire.

Hopefully you are picking green beans and cucumbers. Foliar diseases will also be plentiful this year in the veggie garden due to the constant arrival of rain!

What can you do? Not much.

Once foliar issues have started it’s too late to do anything. You can help to slow the progression by removing heavily diseased plants if you still have good ones to protect. Avoid transmitting it around on your hands from bad plants to good. Increase air flow by pulling out your 3-ft. tall weeds.

Avoid wetting the foliage — if one would ever need to water. Next year consider a fungicide program. Yes, the word sounds scary but it’s really not. It is a preventative only, not a treatment for foliar issues.

A shout out to the Minnesota River Valley Master Gardeners that gave iris demos and plants away amid the stormy Saturday at the Mankato Farmers’ Market. Thanks Barb, Barb and Joyce for helping to color our world one plant at a time!

The Mankato Farmers’ Market is now open for 2019, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Best Buy parking lot in Mankato. The Tuesday market is held 3:30-6 p.m. at Best Buy. The Thursday market will be held 3:30-6 p.m. at the Food Hub in Old Town, 512 N. Riverfront Drive.

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