The warm autumn of 2016, which lasted well into December, produced an interesting sight with a surprising contrast.
It was the Knock Out roses, still blooming splendidly while evergreen wreaths with red bows went up on doors and windows a foot or two away.
This is how summer bumps into winter in a way that turns heads. At least it did mine.
But a deep freeze recently has turned most, if not all, of these blooms damaged and ragged, and it is time for them to go.
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This is an easy pruning job for early winter. Next week, you may have time to spend outdoors, and this activity isn’t very taxing or time-consuming.
Because Knock Outs tend to grow vigorously, a dense, mature plant can soar to 5 feet or so. Bringing them down to about 3 feet now will create a neater look for the winter and reduce the possibility of breakage should an ice storm hit. You have probably seen evidence of this in the past with ice laden branches bowed low by weight and sometimes breaking. Once the weather forecast calls for ice, it is past time to think about pruning Knock Outs.
Even if the plants don’t seem too tall yet, they may have formed some wayward stems that mar the shape of the roses. You may notice these because they intrude into a sidewalk or driveway or they simply stick out from the sides. These should be pruned and put into harmony with your plant. As you prune, dip your pruning shears into a solution of water with 10 percent household bleach. This keeps the pruners clean of any disease organisms that might be present.
Another thing to look for is any dead or broken wood that you see here and there. Cut it out. There is no hope for the dead wood and the broken stems will be dead soon.
A tall mature Knock Out should be pruned back to about 3 feet. Should the worst happen weather-wise and the tips get severely frost-bitten this winter, the plant can be pruned again in late February to remove any dead tips.
None of this should cause any stress or strain.
Nancy Brachey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. My Christmas cactus is dropping flower buds, even before they open. What is wrong?
A. Several things are most likely to cause this. One is a change in location, such as from a porch or deck outdoors to a room indoors, where the temperature, light and humidity change. Another is dry air indoors caused by placing the plant near heat vents. A third is setting the plant near an outside door, which lets in cold air. Keep the soil as evenly moist as possible.