• Alec Baxt

Pruning Early Flowering Plants

My all-time favorite botanical term describes plants that flower before putting out new leaves, or before other plants of the same species also flower. They're early bloomers. These plants are referred to as "Precocious"!

In the Northeastern US, this includes many Magnolias, Flowering Cherries, Apricot, Red Bud and Serviceberry, among others.

Painting by Susan Avis Murphy

When I started learning about Arboriculture I wondered how a plant could make leaves or flowers without already having leaves to produce the energy to make those things; it seemed to be a very chicken-and-egg conundrum. This goes double for structures like flowers, which never make a photosynthetic contribution.

Plants that experience a distinct dormant season (like deciduous plants in the northeast) "think" ahead. Well before winter arrives they will have stored energy in the form of starches behind each bud that will break the following season. Starches are stored in roots as well. In late winter and spring, precocious plants dip into these reserves to flower before their leaf buds open.

After precocious plants have flowered, they are literally exhausted (of starches). This leaves them in a relatively poor positions to respond to stress, like significant pruning. Accordingly, I try to get to the precocious ones either before flowering, or until at least a few weeks after leaf development.

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