Marianne Binetti

March is a good time to prune damaged trees and shrubs and re-pot houseplants

Now is a good time to prune trees and shrubs.
Now is a good time to prune trees and shrubs. MCT

The first week of March is a good time to re-pot and groom your houseplants.

There might be plenty of spring signs outdoors, but if your soil is still wet from all the snowfall, it is best to stay off the lawn and not to work the soil. You can still prune trees and shrubs especially those that were damaged by winter storms.

Cut back broken branches to the point where there is a natural joint. For large branches (bigger than your wrist), use a handsaw or power tool, and, for branches the size of your thumb, long-handled loppers will work best.

March is also the month to plant peas and sweet peas. To keep the seeds from rotting in the damp soil, wrap them in a damp dishcloth and keep indoors until the large seeds have sprouted.

Then when you see the new seedling begin to emerge from the seed coat, you can carefully plant the seeds outdoors in raised beds or into 4-inch pots for transplanting into the garden.

Q. Help! The winter storms have ruined the tall and narrow form of my pyramidalis arborvitae, and now the once-narrow shrubs have arms or branches sticking out at odd angles. Do I cut these off now? Leave them be? I am frozen with doubt. — G.S., Puyallup

A. Time to thaw and recover along with your garden.

You need a ladder, green twine and some sharp hand pruners. Inspect each awkward branch by following it to the base where it joins the main trunk. If the branch is almost snapped in two, just snip it off below the location of the break. If the branch is only bent, then you can tie it back into the column of green using the twine.

Sometimes you can start at the top of the shrub with the green twine by affixing the end of the twine near the top of the trunk. Then just spiral the twine around the shrub, encircling all the awkward branches so that they are again nestled inside the column of green foliage.

Q. My coral bark maple tree has the top branches broken from the snow. If I cut them off, the tree will no longer have a tree shape….it will be a blob because

just the lower half of the tree will be left. Should I just dig it up and start over? My neighbor has the same problem.
— H., Woodinville

A. Here’s the good news. Coral bark and many other types of Japanese maples will survive and grow back in good form despite losing up to a third of their branches due to storm damage.

This is because the point at which you cut into these trees is the same point where you will be stimulating growth, so that in just a year or two your lopsided or topless tree will be looking somewhat restored. Just cut below the location of the branch break.

Tip: If the cut branches have nice color or form you may want to harvest some of those leafless stems and use them to add height and drama to your container gardens or as scaffolding for peas or other annual vines to climb. You can also lay the lightweight branches on top of newly seeded soil to keep out cats and crows.

Q. Is it too late prune my Pee Gee hydrangea? Last year I waited until May to prune this hydrangea and got very few blooms. I found out it has to be pruned in early spring. But when is early spring? — H.M., Tacoma

A. Drop this paper, grab your shears and get outdoors now.

Early March is about the latest I would recommend pruning the hydrangea paniculata or Pee Gee hydrangea. The fewer branches you have on this shrub, the larger the cone shaped blooms will be. Prune out no more than one third of the thinnest or crossing branches and shorten the longest branches by at least one third.

If you don’t get around to pruning this week, then just wait until next year — you will still enjoy blooms from this shrub even if you never prune. The flowers will just not be as large and impressive.


March 3, noon, “Garden Solutions from Around the World,” Whatcom County Home and Garden show.

March 9, 10:30 a.m., “Knock Out Gardens with Beautiful Plants,” Bellevue Nursery, free,