Q: When is the best time of year, and the best way, to prune Knock Out roses? - Michelle Gresham, Raleigh
The best time to prune Knock Out roses is late winter to early spring, just before the bushes are breaking dormancy and hard frosts are more a memory than a threat. In other words, this month is prime pruning time. While you shouldn't cut off more than half the height of the plants for this general pruning, do prune out any dead or broken branches - they could not only give your roses a case of the uglies during flowering season but could also cause your plants health problems later. Left unpruned, Knock Out roses will usually reach about 4 feet high and wide.
After pruning, clean up any clippings to discourage disease and insect troubles. This is also a good time to scratch in a time-release rose fertilizer around the plants to promote bloom production.
Knock Out roses usually start the season with a huge blossom explosion, and although they are self-cleaning, after their initial flower show, you can deadhead spent blooms, but it is not necessary. This a cosmetic option, as these roses will continue blooming anyway.
In addition, the pruning police won't haul you away if, after the first full flush of flowers, you dare to clip the tips of a few rebellious branches that insist on sticking out above and beyond the desired shape of the bush.
Finally, don't go running for the plant snippers if you just planted your roses last year. Skip any major pruning until this time next year to allow these new beauties to become more established in the garden.
Trim those fig trees
Q: I have two fig trees that have grown to a height where I can no longer reach to pick the fruit. Can fig trees be pruned, and when should this be done? - Tammy Schenck, Chapel Hill
Late winter to very early spring is the best time to trim unruly figs.
Although figs can survive a severe pruning - heck, I cut one all the way back to the ground a few years ago, and it came roaring back - to prevent substantial fruit loss the following growing season, be selective about what you whack away.
In your case, cut back any tall, vertical branches that have been taunting you by dangling figs just beyond your reach. Make clean cuts close to lateral branches to minimize stumpy limbs. Even with judicious pruning, expect some decrease in fruit, but in a year or two, your bushes should be back to full fig production - and you won't have to hire an NBA giant for leap 'n' reap harvest duty.
L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. Send your garden questions, including the city where you garden, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, for more gardening tips, visit Jackson's website at southeastgardening.com.