Q. When is the proper time to prune?
A. This depends on the plant you are pruning. Generally speaking, woody ornamentals should be pruned during their dormant season. I like to do most of this pruning in January and February. Most flowering shrubs should be pruned soon after dropping their blooms. If you wait too long to prune these you risk removing flower buds that have begun to set, thereby reducing the number of blooms you will have the following season.
Q. What is the proper way to prune?
A. This greatly depends on what you are pruning, but here are some general guidelines. If you continually shear a shrub you will eventually end up with a thin layer of foliage on the outside of the plant and very little growth inside. Then if you ever need to reduce the shrub in size, it is impossible to do so without cutting it back to bare stems or branches. While most shrubs will recover from this it is recommended that you make selective thinning cuts deep into the plant to create new growth inside of the existing foliage. This also allows for better light penetration and air movement through out the shrub.
It is a good idea to prune limbs to prevent crossing and keep the interior of the tree open. When limbs continually rub against each other they can develop wounds that make convenient entry points for insects and disease. I have also seen these limbs become weak, depending on the support of the other limbs.
Removing spent blooms on your annuals will encourage additional blooming.
Turf Maintenance Schedules
This is a general reference for maintaining grasses commonly grown in eastern North Carolina. Adjustments may be needed to compensate for varying climate and soil condition. These links will redirect you to the related NCSU Turf Files publications.
Q. What kind of fertilizer should I use on my lawn?
A. Generally speaking it will be best to use a slow release fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as micronutrients. One of the most common slow release fertilizer ratios for the lawn is 16-4-8. The first of these numbers represents nitrogen, the second phosphorus and the last potassium. In this example there would be 16 pounds of nitrogen in 100 pounds of this fertilizer. Nitrogen promotes greening and shoot growth. Phosphorus helps to promote root development and potassium helps the turf withstand stress, such as it's dormant season conditions. Some fertilizers will include a small amount of iron in the fertilizer, which will help to quickly green the lawn. However, the iron will stain concrete, so be sure to remove any stray fertilizer from areas that will be damaged by staining.
Having explained all of this, here are some general rules of thumb. Apply a high phosphorus fertilizer when seeding or installing sod, to promote root development. If you apply a complete n-p-k fertilizer throughout the growing season, your turf should have enough potassium to get through the stress of the dormant season. Do not apply a fertilizer containing phosphorus to centipede unless directed to do so by a soil analysis. Refer to the turf maintenance schedule links above for the fertilizer specifications and rates specific to your turf.
Q. When should I treat the weeds in my lawn?
A. Broadleaf weeds should be sprayed early in their growth cycle. Follow chemical label instructions carefully. Pay attention to the interval required between application and rain or irrigation. Weeds should be actively growing when treated (do not treat during drought or excessively cold conditions). If you are applying a broadleaf herbicide incorporated into a fertilizer you should apply it while the grass is wet so that the herbicide can stick to the leaf surface.
Many grassy weeds can be treated pre-emergently. It is particularly important to treat crabgrass pre-emergently. This herbicide needs to be applied and watered in before germination of the weeds. That would be by mid-March here in eastern North Carolina.