Spring, Summer or Fall Pruning

Ever get knee deep in your garden and get pruner happy? cutting back all shrubs and perennials that look winter killed or dead branches, only to find out much later in the season that it was the wrong time to prune and you once prolific blooming shrub is nothing more then a lush green bush.

Pruning is an important part of gardening when necessary, it helps to keep shrubs growing compact and encourages branching to make a fuller more lush shrub. However as your shrub reaches maturity you may not need to be out pruning it yearly anymore and just pruning the odd stray branch to keep it looking uniform.

Now the question is 'What time off year is the best for pruning?' I get this question a lot, and there isn't just one answer. It all depends on the shrub and flowing time, Generally the rule is;

  • Flowers that bloom in spring should be pruned immediately after flowers are spent and have dropped.
  • Flowers that bloom in the summer months should be pruned late fall to early winter and in some cases even early spring, but keep in mind that shrubs pruned to late in the spring may have the chance of removing their buds and as a result not flowering that season.

Shrubs that should be pruned late fall to early spring:

  • Evergreens
  • Spirea
  • Potentilla
  • Dogwood
  • Paniculata hydrangeas
  • Burning bush, Euonymus
  • Summer sweet
  • Butterfly bush- late spring after it starts to show signs of life, usually mid June
  • Hakuro Nishiki Willow
  • Roses
  • Barberries (Prune in spring, Do not prune in fall as Barberries set red berries in fall for winter)
  • Boxwood

Shrubs that should be pruned in summer Right after they're done flowering:

  • Lilac
  • Kerria
  • Forsythia
  • weigela
  • deutzia
  • Magnolia (don't prune to hard as may result in fewer or no flowering the following year, best to cut no more then 1/3 of the shrub)
  • Azalea

Shrubs that should not be pruned:

  • Rhododendron
  • Daphne
  • Leucothoe

What is the difference between dead heading and pruning?

Deadheading is when you remove any spent blossoms on your shrub. Keep in mind when dead heading to always follow the stem right down to the first set of leafs and cut just above to ensure that no dead wood is left on the specimen. Leaving dead wood on shrubs and trees only makes diseases more susceptible and give insects a home in which could damage your shrub or tree.

Pruning shrubs is where you remove anywhere from 1/3 of the shrub to 2/3 of the shrub, in a few rare cases, mostly hydrangeas please see info page on hydrangea care, you can remove all the shrub to 3 inches above ground level. when pruning it is always best to determine where the hard wood becomes soft wood. Pruning into the hardwood of any shrub is called a hard prune, by doing this you risk losing your shrub. In most cases this prune is only done as a last attempt to rejuvenate a wild shrub that has over grown its location, or has been severely damaged by winter winds, ice or frost. It is very important when cutting shrubs back this far to leave at least four branches or sets of leafs where it will have a chance to re-bud and regrow from. For yearly pruning and spring/ fall cleanup a soft prune is what you want to do for your shrub, after counting three sets of leafs or branches up from where to wood becomes soft, Will be more flexible and have a slight colour change to a lighter colour, and cut your branch slightly above to third break.

Here is what three breaks, or sets of leafs look like on a stem. Each red arrow is a new break in the stem where new growth can emerge from.

this is an example of what Hardwood may look like and Soft wood may look like on your shrub, the example used is easy to distinguish the difference but not all shrubs may be as easy to distinguish hardwood and soft wood.



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