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The Bay Gardener by Dr. Francis Gouin

Prune hard, now!

A Bay Weekly reader lamented over how tall her azaleas had grown. She could no longer see out of the living room windows and would have to pay to have them replaced. I told her that all she had to do was cut them back to at least two inches below the ledge of the window. The plants would rejuvenate. The expression on her face clearly indicated that she thought me a complete idiot.

Cut before month’s end so you have plenty of fruit to pick later

If you want your high-bush blueberry plants to produce the giant fruit photographed and described in nursery catalogs, then you have to prune them severely. If the plants are not pruned yearly, before April, you’ll get clusters of small berries that are a chore to pick.

Read this before you start cutting

What should I prune when? is one of the most common questions I am asked.     I answer that we prune for quality — with exceptions.

Snatch branches from pussy willows and flowering shrubs

Pussy willows are busting out all over. Forsythia buds are starting to swell as are flowering quince, cherries, almond, weigela and crab apples.     Cut those pussy willows ASAP and tie them in small bunches. Then hang them upside down in a darkened shed or garage so they will dry straight. If you dry them standing, the catkins will bend outward and separate from the stems more easily. Do not put the stems of fresh-cut pussy willow in water.

Prune blackberries and ­raspberries; mulch strawberries

With the weather cool but comfortable to work outside, the time is right to prune both blackberries and raspberries.

Consider your space as you plan your vegetable garden

For the best harvest, plan before you plant. Crowded plants that have to compete for light do not produce a good crop and often have disease and insect problems. Here’s how I plant my garden to give each plant the best chance.     Sweet corn should be planted in blocks, not single rows. Four to five short rows of sweet corn sown six to eight inches apart in two-foot-wide rows will produce higher quality ears due to better pollination.

And it will be good to you

A Bay Weekly reader asked how to care for a potted cyclamen she received from a friend.     Cyclamen make excellent potted plants, as they come in a large selection of colors and flower for a long time with minimal care. However, the cyclamen has a dormancy requirement, and it will tell you when it is ready to take a rest.

Here’s how to tell

If you want to be sure your seeds will sprout, buy fresh ones this season. Fresh seeds have a higher percentage of germination and germinate faster than old seeds.      

My six favorite catalogs for dreaming and ordering

Seed catalogs begin arriving in my mailbox with the new year. Is there a benefit in ordering from catalogs? Or is it just as good to buy seeds locally?     The variety of seeds at garden centers, hardware stores and some grocery stores is rather limited. Some like to tell customers that the seeds were especially selected for our area. It has been my experience that many seeds sold locally are chosen to provide dependable varieties that have survived the test of time.

Some varieties want winter pruning

If your roses have grown tall and have been in the ground for less than a year, pruning them back to within 18 inches of the ground will minimize wind whipping, which loosens the roots in the soil.     Grafted roses also need pruning to avoid damage to the graft union. You can identify grafted roses by the enlarged stem near the ground where the hybrid rose was joined to rootstock. Prune those tall stems back to about 18 inches from the ground.