February can be a busy month for pruning, with the late winter period offering an ideal chance to prune many popular shrubs and trees, as well as trim back perennials that were left over winter.
Depending on your location and climate, you may end up adding many plants to prune to a to-do list that may already contain shrubs and flowers to plant in February. Gardeners in colder locations, with later frosts, will potentially find it better to wait until the temperatures rise to head out and prune, or plant.
To help you get organized and whip your backyard into shape for the months ahead, we take a look at seven popular plants that can be trimmed in February to keep them in shape and give you a fantastic display of flowers this year.
Tips For February Pruning
It is recommended to avoid doing any pruning if freezing temperatures are predicted in the week ahead. Extreme cold can get into pruning cuts and damage the health of any trees or shrubs.
Not only will the plant be thankful for not being pruned in such weather, but it means you don't have to worry about being out and having numb fingers and toes in snow and frosts.
When you do head out to prune, always use clean and sharp garden tools to make clean cuts and avoid spreading diseases around the garden.
The most important aspect of pruning clematis is knowing what pruning group your plant belongs to - there are three groups and they are trimmed differently. Not checking your type and cutting would be a big pruning mistake when it comes to clematis.
February is the ideal month to prune both Group 2 and Group 3 clematis - types that flower in summer. When it comes to the pruning, Group 2 types are pruned lightly in February to simply remove dead and diseased stems - over-pruning can see you lose flowering shoots. Group 3 clematis are hard-pruned in February and can be cut down to 30 inches above the ground.
When growing roses, pruning is a hugely important annual task to keep these shrubs healthy, maintain their ideal shape, and ensure they provide you with a plethora of beautiful blooms over the summer. All roses, bar rambling roses, are pruned during their period of dormancy.
Late winter is an ideal time to prune roses of all kinds, however, your location will dictate what months are best. If you live in US hardiness zones 8 or 9 then February is a good time to prune roses, if you live in colder zones then it is best to wait until March at least.
The ideal timing is after the last frost and just before the rose starts actively growing in early spring. Getting the timing wrong is a common rose pruning mistake and it risks affecting their display.
Wisteria is a glorious flowering climber and a stunning sight when in full flower. It can be a great climbing plant for arches, pergolas, or walls and mature wisteria need to be pruned twice a year to keep their growth in check and looking at their finest.
The pruning takes place in summer and also during its winter dormancy - and February is an ideal time to head out with the pruning shears and give it a trim.
Winter pruning a wisteria is a simple task to complete, simply work your way over the entire plant cutting back the new growth to two or three buds. Use this time to also remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches, or growth going in unwanted directions.
4. Butterfly Bush
Butterfly bushes, also known as buddleia, are another popular fast-growing shrub that can get unruly if not pruned regularly. Their distinctive flowers, that attract bees and other pollinators in their droves, can also end up just blooming high up on the shrub if left unpruned.
So to prevent a tangle, and ensure a display of flowers you can enjoy, then pruning in late winter or early spring is advised.
The exact time to prune a butterfly bush will depend on your location. Those in warmer climates can prune in February just as the bush is starting to come into active growth.
If you live in colder climates, and have longer winters with later frosts, then hold off pruning until the risk of a late cold snap is over.
5. Crepe Myrtle
Crepe myrtles want to be pruned during their period of dormancy, from fall to early spring. However, late winter is the preferred time to prune - February is ideal but the perfect time will depend on your climate. The pruning should be done just before the tree is starting to actively grow again in late winter.
Pruning in dormancy is advantageous as you can get a good view of the bare stems as you trim, with the intention of gently shaping the tree and removing dead, damaged, diseased, and any crossing branches.
Campsis is a US native vine that has stunning blooms in shades of red, pink, orange, and yellow, and they can be one of the best plants to cover a wall.
The fast-growing vines do bring a tropical garden vibe to a space, but they can be aggressive spreaders so require pruning to be kept under control.
It is best to cut campsis back hard in late winter, with February or March being the ideal time. This trimming may seem drastic, however the vine will grow back quickly and it means you will get blooms all over the plant rather than just at the ends of all the long and unruly stems.
Trim the shoots back to around 12 inches high - leaving three or four buds on each remaining shoot - and remove some of the oldest stems each winter to encourage new young growth.
When growing hydrangeas, they are another shrub that requires you to know the type to dictate when you should prune. Pruning at the wrong time is a hydrangea pruning mistake that risks you missing out on a year of flowers.
Popular hydrangea types such as Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens flower on the new growth, so trimming in late winter can shape the shrub ahead of this year’s growth that will carry the blooms in summer. Remove dead, diseased, and damaged wood and then shape the hydrangea by thinning out congested and older stems.
Hydrangea macrophylla, known as mophead or lacecap hydrangeas, flower on last year’s wood. It is advisable to prune them after they have finished blooming in mid-to-late summer. Make sure you know your hydrangea before heading out with the tools this February.
Tools for pruning
A pair of premium pruning shears with forged aluminum handles and hardened steel blades that are ideal for pruning backyard shrubs
A pair of heavy duty bypass pruning shears made from Japanese grade, high-carbon steel that can cut branches up to 1" in diameter
Can I cut back perennials in February?
Hardy garden perennials can be cut back in flower beds, borders, or container gardens in February. Many people opt to leave the growth of many perennials as part of a winter garden for structure and to benefit wildlife, and late winter or early spring is the ideal time to then cut these back.
This can help to tidy the garden and get it ready for the arrival of spring and the increasing temperatures. If you live in an area that still gets hard frosts in February, it may be advised to hold off cutting back perennials until the temperatures increase.
A pair of steel blade plant shears with extendable handles that can be ideal for pruning tasks such as cutting back perennials or light hedge trimming
Can you trim hedges in February?
Deciduous hedges, such as beech, hornbeam, and hazel, can be trimmed in February when they are dormant if they are in need of a winter tidy. Do not prune, however, if there is snow or frosts predicted.
When pruning in February you are likely to need a combination of tools, primarily pruning shears and also some loppers to cut through thicker stems.
Keeping tools sharp will always benefit plants, and it can be as simple as having a pocked-sized sharpening tool, such as the Altuna Pocket Blade Sharpener available at Amazon, to give your pruning shears or loppers a quick sharpening prior to cutting. Your plants will be happy, as the cuts you make will be cleaner and easier to heal over.
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Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialise as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted in the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.
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