Sarah Holden 

As the winter chill begins to loosen its grip, and the snow starts to melt away, garden enthusiasts are gearing up for the much-anticipated arrival of spring. With the promise of warmer days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to venture outdoors and give your garden the attention it deserves.

One crucial task for this transitional period is pruning. Whether you have shade trees, fruit trees, perennials, or shrubs, a sunny and dry day is ideal for this rejuvenating process. Not only does it benefit the plants, but it's also a treat for the green-thumbed pruner. For shade trees, it's important to note that some, like Birch and Maple, are 'bleeders" that release sap when pruned during their peak growth period, usually as buds turn green. To minimize sap secretion, prioritize pruning these varieties first.

When it comes to evergreen shrubs and trees, timing is key. Wait until the coldest winter weather has passed but act before warmer temperatures (above 50°F) signal the plants to wake up. Tipping back new shoots on Mugho pines and thinning out branches on dense Colorado Spruce are excellent tasks for this season.

Pruning flowering shrubs requires a bit of finesse. Spring-flowering shrubs such as Forsythia, Lilac, and spring-blooming Spirea should be pruned after they bloom to avoid sacrificing this spring's blossoms.

However, other flowering shrubs like Cotoneaster, Caragana, Currants, and Dogwood can be pruned now or just as buds begin to swell. As temperatures rise, it's time to remove protective mulches from roses, perennials, strawberries, and rhododendron crowns. Prune back as needed to promote healthy growth.

In the realm of berries, consider shortening tall raspberry canes and thinning out crowded plants. Remove dead canes on June-bearing raspberry cultivars, cutting them as close to the ground as possible.

For Everbearing raspberry cultivars, remove only the top part of canes that fruited last fall. When it comes to fruit trees, seize the opportunity to prune until the first green leaves emerge.

Prioritize the removal of diseased or dead branches, but bear in mind that fruit trees afflicted with canker disease may heal more effectively when pruned later in the spring during active growth.

Armed with these spring pruning insights, gardeners can ensure a flourishing and vibrant landscape in the months to come. So, grab your pruners, soak up the sunshine, and let the gardening season begin!

Sarah Holden is an MSU horticulture extension agent at Missoula County Department of Ecology and Extension.