Melinda's Garden How-To: Pruning Shrubs - Pasquesi Home and Gardens
Melinda's Gardening How-To:Pruning Shrubs

Melinda’s Garden How-To: Pruning Shrubs

Overgrown and lackluster shrubs can be transformed into beautiful specimens with a few properly placed pruning cuts.

What You Need
• Safety Glasses
• Leather Gloves
   *Elbow high gauntlet gloves protect forearms from thorns and prickles
• Bypass (two sharp blades that cut like scissors) hand pruner for small stems
• Bypass loppers to extend your reach and for larger diameter stems
• Pruning Saw for large stems
   *A reciprocating saw allows easy access to narrow spaces and provides extra power

When to Prune
• Late winter or early spring before growth begins is a good time to prune summer flowering shrubs like summer blooming spirea, hydrangea, and potentilla
• Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs like lilac, forsythia and bridal wreath spirea after they flower
  *Prune soon after flowering as these plants set their flower buds mid summer prior to spring bloom
  *Pruning at other times removes the flower buds eliminating spring bloom
  *Consider doing major pruning jobs in late winter, you’ll sacrifice the flowers but it is less stressful on the plant
• Prune arborvitae, junipers and yews in early spring before growth begins
  *Prune wayward new growth in mid summer
  *Avoid pruning evergreens in late summer, fall, or early winter. This can increase the risk of winter burn.
• Avoid late summer and early fall pruning as this can stimulate late season growth that is more subject to winter kill.

Why Prune
• Reduce the size and improve the shape of overgrown plants
• Increase flowering and fruit production and improve bark color
• Remove dead, damaged, or diseased stems
• Eliminate crossing, rubbing or inward facing stems

Where to make cuts – Prune to maintain the natural form and shape of the plant
• Make cuts 1/4 of an inch above an outward facing bud
  *slanting down and away from the bud
  *vary height of these cuts
   – new dense growth occurs just below the pruning cut
• Where a smaller branch joins a larger branch
• Back to the main trunk or at ground level

Types of Pruning
  • Maintenance – Proactive pruning to keep shrubs healthy and looking good
  *Start with dead and diseased stems
  *Remove any crossing, rubbing or inward facing stems.
  *Reduce size by cutting one or two older stems to ground level.
  *Prune a few longer branches back to shorter adjoining branches

  • Renewal – For overgrown shrubs
  *Suckering shrubs like red twig dogwood
   – Remove one fourth of the older stems to ground level
   – Shorten the remaining stems as needed
   – Repeat over a 3 to 4 year period
   – Once renewed – switch to maintenance pruning

  • Rejuvenation – Severely overgrown & tolerant of this type of pruning
  *Tolerant shrubs such as
   – forsythia, snowball hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, spirea, and lilac
  *Remove all growth to ground level
   – Stimulates lots of new stems that will need thinning
   – Can result in an even taller plant than before pruning
  *Remove as much as ¾ of the new growth to ground level
  *Reduce height as needed
  *Switch to maintenance pruning once plants are the desired size and shape

  • Hedging/Shearing –Pruning into formal hedges, geometric shapes and topiary
  *Tolerant shrubs – shearing is high maintenance and hard on plants
   – Privet, yew, and durable plants with small, closely spaced leaves
  *Prune so the top of the hedge is narrower than the bottom
  *Use rejuvenation pruning when hedge is top heavy and bare on the bottom

A Few Specifics
• Japanese (summer blooming) spirea, Annabelle hydrangeas and potentilla
  *This method reduces problems with floppy growth
  – Prune back all stems halfway
  – Prune 50% of the larger/older stems to ground level
  – Lightly shear spirea after flowering
    * encourages 2nd even 3rd flush of bloom

• Juniper and arborvitae need little pruning
  *Prune longer branches back to upward growing side branch
  *Feather prune (remove long branches back to trunk) on spreading junipers
  *This type of pruning hides cuts and keeps plants looking young and natural


Written by, Melinda Myers. Melinda Myers is a nationally recognized gardening expert with more than 30 years of horticulture experience.  She is a wealth of knowledge and we are pleased to share Melinda’s Gardening How-To with you!

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