When is the best time to prune shrubs in your landscape?
The answer is: When it needs it.
Some experts might tell you that you need to wait until winter or early spring to cut back your shrubs or trees. Here at Mike’s Plant Farm, we ignore the calendar and prune as needed. We prune in the early summer. The plants quickly flush out again with new growth. By late summer/early fall they are usually ready for another haircut.
Why do we prune?
We prune our landscape plants in the early summer to propagate the clipped pieces as softwood cuttings. This early summer trimming encourages a lot of new growth. In late August or September we prune again to keep the size manageable, to encourage spring growth, and to help the plant fill out.
Clipping a twig back, flush against a main branch will discourage growth. General pruning, where the twigs are clipped mid branch will create more growth. It helps develop a fuller shrub with more compact branching.
How to prune a shrub.
Start at the top and work your way down. Try not to make your tops flat. Keep them slightly rounded.
Most (quality) hedge shears will have a slightly curved handle. Hold your shears so blades curve upward while cutting the top of your shrub. Flip it over so the blades curve downward while you cut the sides. This will help you to taper the sides into a rounded shape.
The most important thing to remember when pruning a shrub is not to cut the sides at an inward angle. This will cause the plant to shade itself and then its not going to grow properly or have nice coloration. You’ll end up with small brown branches along the sides of your plant while the top grows quickly. Before long you’ll have an oddly shaped oval-ish shrub. Keep the sides rounded outward.
How much should I cut?
We take our shrubs back quite a bit. In the video below, you’ll see that Mike clips his spirea bushes to under 2 feet and they will grow back to 3 or 4 feet by next summer when its time to prune again. Remember, pruning promotes growth. Click here to see some of the crazy pruning jobs we get away with.
What about ornamental trees?
Go for it! Clip mid branch where you want to encourage fullness, and clip branches that you do not want back to the main branch or trunk. Cut any suckers back as far as you can. You want to get them back to the main root or as close as possible. Otherwise they will just keep coming back in greater numbers.
Does ground cover ever need to be pruned?
Sometimes. Check out this blue rug juniper.
The arms on this blue rug juniper are stretched way out making it look like a starfish. Its neat, but not the look we’re going for. We will trim up these runners to keep them from reaching too far beyond the body of the plant. We want to keep it confined to one specific area so that we have more of a blue rug and less of a blue tendril.
What shouldn’t I prune?
There is very little that we do not prune here at the nursery. We do not prune the tops of evergreens that grow on one leader branch, like an emerald green arborvitae or a Canadian hemlock. Once you cut that leader branch, they stop growing upward and start growing outward…not a good look for pyramidal trees.
We hold off on pruning things like purple sandcherry or dappled willow because they propagate nicely as hardwood cuttings. We want their branches to stay nice and long until its time to stick the cuttings in the winter after they have gone dormant. We’ll prune them in the winter and then they will begin filling out rapidly once again with new spring growth.
Check out this video on how to prune shrubs and other landscape plants!
Whether you are a grower who is looking to prune for propagation or a homeowner who is pruning for looks, I think you’ll find this video gives a helpful demonstration on how simple and easy pruning should be.