Published on 01/07/16

Early blooms call for patience, not pruning

By Merritt Melancon

With December’s temperatures mimicking spring in most parts of Georgia, it’s no wonder that so many landscape plants are confused. Last month, gardeners in all corners of the state saw their azaleas blooming and their spring flowering trees forming buds. Since then, winter weather has returned and damaged some of these early signs of life, but University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist Bodie Pennisi says there’s still hope for those way-too-early bloomers.

The key is to be patient and wait to see what happens, according to Pennisi. This is a time for Zen gardening.

Pruning now will not force the tree or shrub to make new blooms. If plants are pruned now, healthy blossoms, which will open later in the spring, may be removed, she said.

“Nothing can be done for the buds that opened earlier than spring,” Pennisi said. “There are still unopened buds on these plants, so folks should still be able to enjoy spring blooms. There may be fewer blooms, but they will be there.”

Spring-blooming trees and shrubs produce all of their flowering buds during the previous summer when they have energy to spare. The buds stay dormant in the tree or shrub through the winter until warmer weather triggers their release.

Pruning spring-blooming shrubs now won’t reset the clock and force the tree to produce new buds in the spring, she said. Also, pruning in the winter leaves the plant open to disease, since it does not have the ready energy to heal its wounds quickly.

For more information on caring for landscape plants after freezing weather, see the UGA Extension publication “Winter Protection of Ornamental Plants” at

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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