photo credit: Dario Sabio
You plant a grapevine, keep it watered, and it gives you juicy, crisp, sweet, pop-in-your-mouth grapes... so isn't that all there is to it?

Sort of.  

You can leave it at that, but you'll have more grapes and less disease problems if you prune it right- which can mean removing up to 80% of the plant!

Pruning helps the vine get the light it needs, better airflow (which reduces disease), increases production, and gives you a better-looking plant.  See the video below to watch how to prune properly.

For those of you who like to see the science and details behind it, check out this very good slide show about it.  This one is targeted  at commercial grape growers, but includes a lot of practical information for the average gardener.

Or read this short pruning summary- less than 2 minutes to read-  including categories of grapes.  I discovered from this one that my Niagara grapevine, being less vigorous than many, should have 3 buds left on each spur (stub left on the main vine), rather than the 2 shown in the video below. 

If you'd like to learn about all kinds of pruning for fruiting vines, shrubs, and trees, try the USU Extension Pruning handbook.  I have a hard copy of this same handout from when I took the Master Gardener course in about 1999.  I pull the booklet out almost every year and learn more each time.  The more I've pruned, the more I understand all of it...
If you have a forsythia bush in your yard, you’ll need to prune it each year to keep it from turning into an overgrown tangle.  The best time to do this is right after it blooms.   You can prune it any time of year, but you’ll get fewer blossoms this way.  Blossoms form on ‘old’ wood, which is what gardeners call what was there during the previous summer and fall.  

If your bush is terribly overgrown already, you can cut the entire bush nearly to the ground.  About four inches is a good amount to leave behind; it will grow new, flexible branches during the summer and fall, and by the next year, it will be looking good again.  If the bush doesn’t need that much help, just cut the oldest branches off as close to the ground as you can.   Also cut out any broken or damaged branches, as well as any that cross and rub each other.  Ideally, you’ll remove about ¼ to 1/3 of the branches each year.

Lilacs can be treated the same way; these flowers also bloom on  one-year-old wood.  Cutting an old one nearly to the ground works to rejuvenate it in a hurry.  If you don’t much mind waiting a little longer, start by cutting out any branches thicker than 2”.  The ideal is to have 8-12 branches of different ages; you’ll get the most blooms that way. This also means you don’t need to prune much during its first few years.  Almost any shrub that blooms in spring, bloom on ‘old wood’.  Other shrubs that bloom on old wood, and so do best if pruned right after blooming, include big-leaf hydrangea, English holly, flowering quince, some clematis, some roses (old varieties), and most climbing roses.

Related posts:

Will Frost Damage Wipe Out My Tree Fruit?

How to Prune and Fertilize Fruit Trees, shrubs, and landscape trees

Selecting and Using Inorganic Fertilizers

Fertilizing Fruit Trees

Understanding Fertilizer, Knowing Your Backyard Weeds, and free cooking e-books

Yeah, it's a motley assortment on today's post...
I get a monthly newsletter from the Utah State University Extension; I'm passing onto you a couple good resources they listed.  One is a short article, “So You Want to Raise Honeybees?”.  It lists some things you may or may not know, but need to, before deciding if getting a hive is a good idea for your situation.

Another recent article is
"Care and Feeding of Indoor Plants"  

It's a real pity I didn't read this years ago;  during at least the first decade out on my own, I killed every houseplant that had the misfortune of being in my house.  There was only one exception; a ficus tree that came with my husband when we were first married.  I figured that was because he got it established; he'd had it for five years already before our wedding.  (Almost 18 years later, that same tree is in the corner of our dining room!)
And I can now keep a plant alive, proving I remember to water it.  (But not too often- apparently I drowned the first several plants.) 

What can you do in the garden now?  As soon as any snow is off the ground, it's a good time to:

-prune most trees, particularly fruit trees- you're aiming to do this after the worst of the cold is over, but before leaves come out.  There is a previous post with some excellent videos on how to prune.
-prune shrubs that bloom in the summer, like roses.  They tend to be healthiest when pruned by about 1/3 each year, though you can cut them nearly to the ground if you have to.  That's a great way to get a wild bush back under control.  (This trick works with overgrown lilacs, too.)
-clean and sharpen your garden tools and mower blade
-trim and rake out any dead annuals left over in the garden from last year.
-add mulch to beds and around trees.  This will help moisture stay in the ground longer, getting plants off to a healthier start.
-plan your garden, if you haven't already.  Find a garden spot that will get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.  Most stores have all their seed packets available by now, and remember you may already have seeds in your kitchen.  Don't start seedlings indoors, though, until about six weeks before they can go outdoors.
-plant peas, if you like.  They take about two months to produce pods, and are hardy enough to plant right now.  They'll do best in a sunny place that has some sort of shade around the roots; they stop producing if the plant gets too hot.
-transplant hardy herbs and bareroot raspberry and strawberry plants (if you're local and want any, email me!)

Related posts:
How to Prune and Fertilize Fruit Trees, Shrubs, and Landscape Trees

Starting on Your Spring Garden

Start Thinking GARDEN (what seeds you may already have, how long they'll keep, when you can till, and more)

Gardening 101
Both the red-twig dogwood, left, and pine tree, right, will benefit from pruning. There's also a rosebush behind the pine tree that needs it.

Why should you prune and fertilize?

Fertilizing right makes a huge difference in how quickly your trees grow, and how healthy they are.
Pruning also helps their health; you cut out anything broken or diseased, remove branches that rub (these would open them to more disease and breakage), helps make for strong trees (by selecting and balancing good branches with strong angles), and opens the tree up to allow more light onto the leaves and fruit/flowers, making it more productive.  Some shrubs give more blossoms and better stem color (like the red-twig dogwood, above) when pruned. 

Most trees handle pruning best while dormant, so right now is perfect.  Fertilizing fruit trees and other fruit-bearing shrubs is best done before you see the flowers.  You can still do it after, but the resulting fruit will be softer and bruise more easily.  Now is a great time for this, too.

These great videos and links are from the USU Extension site.  Right now is a perfect time to prune.  So if you have been wondering how to really prune a fruit tree, this video's for you!

§  Step By Step Orchard Pruning (video) - techniques demonstrated by Matt Palmer

Here is info on pruning other things:

§  Pruning Landscape Trees

§  5 Minute Pruning Shrubs (video) 

How to Prune A Rose Bush (video)  


If you don't know how to choose a fertilizer, see  Selecting and Using Inorganic Fertilizers

To fertilize a fruit tree the simplest way, measure the width (diameter) of the trunk.  You need 2-4 ounces of actual nitrogen per inch of diameter. If you have a new tree, 1" diameter trunk, let's say you'll need 2 ounces.  If you have a bag of fertilizer that says 33-0-0, that means it is 33% nitrogen by weight.  To get 2 ounces of nitrogen, you'll need 6 ounces of this particular fertilizer .  If you have a bag of 10-10-10, you'll  need 20 ounces of that one.   (see the fertilizer link above.)  If you already know this and want to know more, there are more details here, Fertilizing Fruit Trees.