The shortest month of the year with Valentine’s Day in its middle should be a great time for romance. If your relationship is still in that stage, enjoy. For those who have been together long enough that leather and lace has given way to coffee makers and car tires, you might get some extra points by taking care of some late winter garden chores like pruning and controlling weeds.

Pruning is always a hot topic. It seems that everyone has a guru (or is one themselves) and has an idea of how this chore should be handled. So, for whatever it’s worth, here’s my take.

The best way to handle pruning chores is to plant shrubs and trees that don’t need much of it. I’m sure you’ve heard the mantra “right plant, right place.” Planting a waxleaf privet in front of a window whose base is 3 feet above the ground will require constant pruning. Remove it and plant something like dwarf yaupon holly or ‘Carissa’ holly and you will immediately reduce your workload.

Even if you do have the right plants, there are still some good reasons to prune in addition to controlling size. Setting the basic structure on young shade trees is incredibly important. Thinning out evergreens by removing entire limbs back into the canopy (rather than just shearing them) will prevent outside growth from shading everything in the interior. The result is a fuller, less leggy plant. If you have formal hedges it’s important that they are narrower at the top than the bottom. Evergreens that are shaped like the letter “V” will lose the lower growth from shading — something that’s difficult to repair without drastic measures.

Join us Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, at 2 for a pruning workshop at the Arboretum. Email me at or call 910-798-7660 during business hours. There is no charge for the workshop, but please call or email and let us know you’re planning to attend. Bring your pruners and we’ll have some fun out in the garden.

When the days warm into the 60s this time of year, all of the winter weeds in lawns including chickweed, henbit, knawel, parsley-piert, hop clover and vetch take off like the proverbial Chiroptera bailing out of Hades. Unfortunately, once these weeds are large and flowering, they are much more difficult to control. Mixtures of broadleaf weed killers such as Trimec, Weed-B-Gon and Speed Zone may give you some relief but will likely require multiple applications.

If you have zoysia or Bermuda grass, avoid the “southern” formulations of these mixtures. They have less 2,4-D because centipede and St. Augustine are sensitive to it, but removing or reducing this product in the mixture reduces the effectiveness on lots of weeds.

Put “lawn weed control” on your to-do list for next Labor Day weekend. An atrazine application then will prevent most of these troublesome winter weeds and will also keep weedy annual bluegrass from taking over the shady, moist portions of your lawn.

This is also about the time most gardeners mosey down to the nursery and pick up a bag of crabgrass preventer. Applying pre-emergence herbicides for weedy, annual grasses and broadleaf weeds isn’t generally a terrible idea, but dinitroaniline herbicides such as pendimethalin, oryzalin, trifluralin and prodiamine hurt the rooting of centipede and St. Augustine. This is especially true on lawns 2 years old and younger. Check the labels of your favorite crabgrass preventer before you apply.

Check our our websites where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: If you live in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610. You can also find great local information at and on Facebook. Just search for “New Hanover County Arboretum.” Or, stop by the Plant Clinic at the Arboretum between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.


Al Hight is the extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension in New Hanover County. Contact him at 910-798-7666.