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  • The Xeric Gardner | David Salman

Pruning Conifers

Pruning Conifers by Pinching the Candles

Now is the time to prune your small growing pines and other dwarf conifers to limit their size and prevent them from outgrowing their space in the landscape. Conifers, such as pines, spruces and fir, are important landscaping trees and shrubs. Many of the conifers that we plant in our home landscapes are smaller growing dwarf or compact selections that we use to fit in smaller spaces up next to our houses, along walkways and as screening plants along property lines and roadsides to block unsightly views or provide privacy.

Common dwarf or compact pines include the mugo pine, Bosnian pine, compact Austrian pine and many others. To help keep them small and in-scale with their surroundings, it’s necessary to limit their growth by pruning. Pines typically only have one growth cycle per year which happens in late spring. From the tips of each branch, the pine grows soft “candles” which resemble asparagus shoots. By cutting these candles in half, you’ll limit that year’s growth to the length of the cut candle left beneath the cut. This helps to keep the pines more compact and grow more densely.

Now is the time to cut (or pinch) the pine candles here in Santa Fe and northern NM. Don’t wait until the candles grow out their needles. Once the needles have elongated, the candle becomes woody and when pinched, doesn’t grow out new shoots from below the cut.

Non-pines like spruce, fir, AZ cypress and Deodar cedars can also be pruned to shape and limit their annual growth by trimming the soft new candles or shoots as they begin to elongate in mid- to late May.

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