How to Prune Spring-Flowering ShrubsHow to Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs
The bright yellow blossoms of forsythia and the fragrant purple sprigs of lilacs are welcome springtime sights. Shrubs such as these launch the seasonal flower display with fireworks of color. Here are some TLC tips to ensure that those glorious bursts of color reappear year after year.
Prune for blooms, beauty, and health
Judicious pruning keeps shrubs blooming their best. Cutting off spent flowers diverts the plant’s energy from unnecessary seed production to the creation of plentiful flower buds for next year. Pruning can also improve the shape and structure of a bush, enhancing its beauty and keeping it healthy by improving air circulation and allowing sunlight to penetrate the center of the clump. And because many spring-flowering shrubs produce flowers on new wood, pruning out old branches promotes the growth of young, blossom-bearing ones. However, shrubs younger than three years generally do not need pruning.
Use the right tools
Most shrubs can be pruned using one or more of four basic tools: a pair of secateurs, loppers, a small pruning saw and pole-mounted pruners. For twigs and stems measuring less than the diameter of a thumb, hand-held secateurs will do the job. Loppers, ratcheted for better leverage, can handle thicker stems. Large branches may require a Japanese pruning saw, which cuts on both the pull and the push strokes, making them more efficient than saws fitted with conventional blades. For cutting high branches, pruners mounted on an extensible pole make it easy to reach the top without a ladder.
The blades of secateurs and loppers should be sharpened and honed after every few cuts. When pruning out diseased branches, sterilize blades with rubbing alcohol after each cut.
Know when to prune
Spring-flowering shrubs can bloom so early in the season because they produce their flower buds during the previous season. Forsythias, for example, start forming flower buds over the summer, and these nestle behind leaf axils where they remain dormant through fall and winter.
To prevent the removal of next season’s flower buds, it’s best to prune before the buds start to develop. Various shrubs produce buds at different times of the season, and climate plays a role, too, so it’s often difficult to gauge just when this will happen. Therefore, the safest time to prune is just after the shrub has finished blooming.
How to prune step by step
Here’s how to prune most spring-flowering shrubs, including serviceberry, deutzia, forsythia, beauty bush, honeysuckle, mock orange, lilac, and weigela.
- Remove any dead or diseased wood, cutting stems right to the ground.
- Prune out some of the older branches (these are thicker and darker than younger stems), cutting them back to about 30 centimeters from the ground.
- Shorten the remaining stems by about one-third and remove any inward-facing branches. This will control the size of the shrub and open it up to air and sunlight.
- Remove any remaining dead blossoms; depending on the shrub, these can be removed by shearing, pruning or manually snapping them off.
- Pruning shrubs in this manner every year, being careful not to remove more than one-third of the overall size, ensures attractive, floriferous and healthy plants.
Shaping your shrubbery
Whether your goal is to preserve a natural look or to create a compact shape or simply to promote plant health, pruning shrubs and bushes is a must. Pruning shrubs and bushes regularly maintain the health of your plants and stimulate and direct growth.
Depending on the variety of plant you have, weather exposure, soil type, and desired result, each shrub or bush has its own unique pruning needs. And no matter what kind of plant it is, a properly pruned shrub or bush is a work of art and should not look like it’s been pruned.
To preserve the natural look, the desired form for many ornamental shrubs and bushes is a vase shape. Four to seven strong, well-placed branches, or leaders, form a framework that will hold future growth. Smaller bushes and shrubs should be pruned to a central leader. The early shaping of trees, bushes, and shrubs is extremely important to develop a strong, balanced framework.
Art and Science
The art of pruning seeks to create the desired form throughout several seasons. Some shrubs and bushes are pruned for ornamental value and others for fruit and berry production.
The science of pruning shrubs and buses requires knowledge of growth habits, plant types, flowering or fruiting characteristics, and mastering a few basic techniques.
Pruning maintains plant health by removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Good tools with razor-sharp edges must be used. A ragged cut will not heal, leaving the plant susceptible to rot and disease. For the same reason, cuts must be made at correct locations. Here are some basic pruning techniques for trees, bushes, and shrubs:
- Heading: Any cut made to a small branch must be made just above the bud. This heading back influences the form of the plant by directing growth from the bud and stimulating growth below the cut.
- Thinning: To thin out a shrub or bush, a branch or twig is cut off either at its point of origin from the parent stem, from a lateral side branch, or at ground level. Thin oldest and tallest stems first to allow the growth of vigorous side branches. This method of pruning results in a more open plant and does not stimulate excessive new top growth. Considerable growth can be cut out without changing the plant’s natural appearance.
- Gradual renewal: In gradual renewal pruning, a few of the tallest or oldest branches are removed at or slightly above ground level annually. Some thinning may be necessary to shorten long branches or to maintain asymmetrical shape.
- Rejuvenate: To rejuvenate an old, overgrown shrub, one-third of the tallest, oldest branches can be removed at or slightly above ground level before new growth starts.
When to Prune
When spring is just around the corner, but it’s still too early to work in your garden, it’s time to prune. Many trees, shrub, and bushes will benefit from an annual pruning during their dormancy (late winter to early spring), although there are some exceptions.
Early spring bloomers set their flower buds the fall before. Pruning them too early in the spring would mean losing some blossoms. Pruning should be timed to minimize disruption of the blooming. Maples will “bleed” excessively if cut in early spring and are best pruned in fall. Evergreen bushes and shrubs should be pruned shortly after the full development of the new season’s growth.
To Prune or Not to Prune
There are no hard and fast rules. There are simply more optimum times to prune. If you find it easier to prune when you can see the shape of the plant, before the branches have left, go for it. Trees and shrubs that require shaping can sacrifice a few blooms to be invigorated by a good spring pruning. Some pruning is better than no pruning!
Fast Growing Trees
When a homeowner selects a tree, one of the first questions is: How fast will it grow? The reason is obvious—the homeowner doesn’t want to wait 15 or 20 years to enjoy the benefits of a tree. People often prefer fast-growing trees because they add beauty to the landscape in a short time.
Fast-growing trees are a versatile part of our landscape design for many reasons. Since they mature quickly, they can provide us with many benefits in a relatively short time frame. Some benefits of fast-growing trees include:
- Shade during hot summer months
- Placed close to our house, they help save energy costs
- Add beauty, texture, and color to your landscape
- Help define outdoor spaces
- Used as a privacy screen
- Add substantial value to our homes
Many trees are advertised as fast-growing. Some will be good selections others may not. You may be happy with the immediate fast growth, but there are some concerns associated with fast-growing trees that you should be aware of. Knowing the problems that may arise will help in your decision making. Some concerns related to fast-growing trees are:
- Require a large amount of growing space: Fast-growing trees usually become large trees and require a large amount of growing space, both above ground and below ground. These trees may quickly grow beyond the space provided, requiring transplanting or removal. Make sure the tree you like will fit in the desired location.
- Relatively short-lived: Fast-growing trees may live for several decades, however, many mature within 20 or 30 years and then begin to decline.
- Maintenance problems: Because these trees grow so quickly, the junctions where the branches join the trunk are usually weaker. During winter storms or heavy winds, the branches tend to break creating maintenance problems.
Many homeowners want the immediate results of fast-growing trees, which far outweigh any problems that may arise. If you make your decision knowing the benefits as well as the concerns, you will be happy with the outcome. The following information will assist you in making an informed decision.
Every fast-growing tree species will have a preferred environment for optimum growth. The more closely your planting site meets the tree’s requirements, the faster the tree becomes established and grows. You can fairly easily amend the soil to make a better match, but you’re stuck with the above-ground environmental conditions. Conditions that will influence a tree’s growth performance include:
- Seasonal temperature extremes
- Sunlight exposure
- Adverse weather conditions
Many fast-growing trees have aggressive underground root systems as well as bigger surface roots. Because of this, you should not plant fast-growing trees near septic tanks or sewer lines. Also, place these trees well away from overhead obstructions including power lines.
Depending on their ultimate size and location, fast-growing trees can provide shade for the entire house or smaller areas such as a patio or deck. Shade density is also an important consideration. Decide if you want the tree to provide you with maximum shade or just lightly filter the sunlight.
Thorough soil preparation enhances good plant growth. Dig a planting hole twice as wide as and slightly shallower than the root ball and fill it with the well-worked backfill soil. There are several important steps in the planting process. Follow the trees specifications and make sure to:
- Keep roots of trees moist at all times before planting
- Plant at the proper depth
- Avoid excessive packing of the fill soil
- Construct a water basin to hold water initially
- Water tree during and after planting
- Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of organic material
Fast-growing trees can provide you with quick shade and privacy for your home as well as many other benefits. To maximize growth, make sure to evaluate the size, placement, and environment before you buy it.
Is There a General Rule of Thumb for When to Prune Flowering Shrubs?
To answer the question of when to prune flowering shrubs, we must first determine the reason behind the pruning. Do you wish to rejuvenate overgrown, neglected flowering shrubs through pruning? Or is this to be merely a routine pruning to maintain the flowering shrubs within certain dimensions?
We sometimes wish to prune flowering shrubs, to shape them or keep them within certain bounds. But we worry that we’ll miss out on this year’s blossoms if we prune at the incorrect time. Here’s the general rule of thumb to know when to prune a particular plant.
If you are undertaking a routine pruning, observe the shrubs’ blooming habits. For shrubs that bloom in summer or fall on the current year’s growth, prune in winter. For shrubs that bloom in spring from last year’s growth, prune after their blooms begin to die.
If you are pruning flowering shrubs to rejuvenate them, the best time to prune is late winter or early spring. True, pruning flowering shrubs at this time will reduce or eliminate blossoming in spring that year, but the trade-off is in gaining healthier, more vigorous flowering shrubs in the long run.
Useful Pruning Practices
- Consider every cut before you make it, from every angle around your tree, and repeat the process after each cut. Remember, less is more when you’re wielding the loppers.
- If your camellia is looking untidy, prune immediately after flowering. Prune the lower branches to lift the shrub off the ground and open it up to the light by aiming for 10cm gaps between the layers of branches at the tips.
- Don’t prune deciduous shrubs and trees before flowering or fruiting or you’ll compromise both.
- Trim the sides of a hedge to encourage dense, even growth from the top to bottom.
- Trimmed hedges should be slightly wider at the base and slope in at the top. This allows light into the base of the plant.
- Keep your groundcovers dense and lush with an occasional shearing. Trim to keep them from encroaching on paths and edges.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs
- 2 Shaping your shrubbery
- 3 Fast Growing Trees
- 4 Is There a General Rule of Thumb for When to Prune Flowering Shrubs?
- 5 Useful Pruning Practices