UNITED STATES—Winter is generally the best season for pruning. Obviously, it is when a majority of plants are dormant, and therefore most complaisant to such potentially invasive procedures. Of course, there are exceptions to this generalization. A few plants are dormant during other seasons. Some simply prefer late pruning to accommodate their bloom or fruiting cycles.
Late pruning is important for some of the same reasons that dormant or winter pruning is important. It controls growth and directs resources. Removal of superfluous or unwanted growth reallocates resources that such growth would otherwise consume, to more useful or productive growth. The primary difference is that late pruning happens after dormancy.
Flowering cherry trees are very similar to fruiting cherry trees, but generate only copious bloom without fruit. Flowering crabapple trees likewise produce only their unique bloom, but without much fruit. Technically, both would prefer dormant pruning during winter. Yet, late pruning immediately after bloom allows them to first bloom as profusely as they can.
Pruning is all about manipulation.
Fortunately, flowering but fruitless counterparts of fruitful trees require pruning that is less severe than what their fruitful relatives require. Comparably severe pruning would be too stressful for them after dormancy. However, flowering peach trees can endure harsh late pruning to stub their bloomed shoots. Stubs generate more shoots for bloom next spring.
Late pruning begins as early as spring blooming trees and shrubs finish bloom. Because of warm weather this winter, many are blooming early. Stems of some types work well as cut flowers, either while in bloom or immediately prior to bloom. Once the first few flower buds begin to show color, most buds on the same stem should continue to bloom inside.
Camellias supposedly prefer pruning during their bloom cycle, since they resume growth immediately afterwards. Because such pruning would ruin some of the bloom that is their primary asset, most camellias must tolerate late pruning after bloom. Dogwood, forsythia, redbud, and flowering quince, as well as flowering cherry and flowering crabapple, are likewise tolerant of these technically untimely techniques.
While other bloom might be lacking through late winter, camellia, Camellia japonica, can help compensate. Although generally not as profuse as spring and summer bloomers, its individual flowers display elegantly against luxuriantly glossy evergreen foliage. Lack of sturdy stems for cutting is no problem for a few flowers simply floating in a shallow bowl.
Centuries of breeding has produced more than two thousand cultivars of camellia. Floral form can be single, semi-double, double, formal double, paeony, anemone or rose, so is quite variable. Floral color ranges from pure white to deep red, with many hues of pink in between. Stripes, speckles, blotches or picotee margins are within the same color range.
Camellia generally develops as nicely dense shrubbery that stays lower than the eaves. Some cultivars stay even lower. A few slowly mature as small and perhaps sparse trees. Individual flowers are about three inches wide. Some are smaller. A few are comparably bulky. Camellia sasanqua is a separate species with smaller but more abundant flowers.
Horticulturist Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.