Fielding Questions: Geraniums from cuttings, pruning burning bush, planting fruit trees
This week, gardening columnist Don Kinzler answers questions about when to cut back geraniums grown from cuttings over the winter, where to prune a burning bush with rabbit damage, and more.
Q: I took cuttings from my geraniums in August and have grown 11 plants under lights. I’ve also been removing the flower buds. Should these be cut back now, like when you bring the whole geranium plant indoors to overwinter? — Carol H.
A: Congratulations on raising a fine crop of geraniums from cuttings! Growing new geraniums from cuttings taken in late summer, plus bringing in the original mother plants are two great ways to save geraniums from one growing season to the next.
The first half of March is a good time to trim geraniums back, both cutting-grown plants or the original plants. If pruned back now, they’ll produce multiple new sprouts low on the plants, creating husky, well-branched plants by May when it’s time to move the plants outdoors once again.
I usually trim off the top one-third to one-half of our own geranium plants, and I just finished the task. It’s also a good time to begin applying water-soluble fertilizer every two weeks.
Q: Despite protecting with chicken wire, the snow was so high rabbits were able to do significant damage to our burning bush, from the top down into the shrub. I’ve read that a burning bush can be pruned in late winter. How far down below the damage should I prune it? — Matt E.
A: Burning bush euonymus is a delightful dish for rabbits, and they'll seek them out, no matter where they're located.
The preferred time to prune a burning bush, and similar deciduous shrubs, is in late winter or early spring, while they are still fully dormant. You can prune right below the point at which rabbits have damaged the branches.
When rabbits damage burning bushes, they sometimes consume entire twigs from the top down, so they essentially prune back the shrub for us. Since rabbits usually don't care where they prune, make sure they didn't leave dead-end stubs. It might be necessary to prune rabbit-eaten branches down to a point where a bud or side twig originates to eliminate empty stubs.
Sometimes, though, rabbits simply gnaw away the bark, revealing the white wood below instead of eating the entire twig. Branches damaged in this way usually die from the point of injury outward. Prune such branches just below the damage.
When spring arrives, fresh greenery should distract rabbits from your burning bush, but in the meantime they might keep feasting until snow melts enough so your chicken wire gives the protection intended.
Q: When is the best time to purchase and plant fruit trees? — Dan M.
A: Spring is generally the preferred time for planting fruit trees, as they’ll have the entire upcoming growing season to establish and grow. If purchasing potted trees that are fully leafed out, planting should be delayed until chances of frost are likely past during the last half of May to avoid injury to tender leaves.
Bareroot fruit trees are sold while still dormant, and they can be planted earlier than trees in full leaf. Because they haven’t started growth yet, spring frosts don’t harm trees that haven’t yet started growth.
The invention of the plastic nursery pot allowed trees to have a season-long shelf life at garden centers, allowing trees to be purchased and planted all summer long and into the fall. Spring is still preferred, while mid-summer with its typical heat can be trickier. Fall planting can be very successful, second only to spring.
If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at firstname.lastname@example.org . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.