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Reasons are plenty to prune

Published 7:18am Monday, April 28, 2014 Updated 9:18am Monday, April 28, 2014

Petunia is a ”yard proud” gal. She wants her landscape to look like it has been professionally planted.

Unfortunately, Bunkey is her gardener. She has been nagging him to get out and prune the shrubs and trees.  They have looked OK up to now, but the “estate” is looking a bit shaggy.

There are many reasons to prune your shrubs.  Proper pruning of flowing shrubs, done at the right time of the year, promotes healthy growth, keeps the shrub a manageable size and promotes more and better blooms.

Since the terms old wood and new wood leave Bunkey in a coma, here is what he needs to know to do a proper job of it.

The spring flowering shrubs, lilac, virburnum, chokeberry weigela, mock orange and flowering cherry need to be pruned right after flowering as the buds for next year’s flowers form on this summer’s wood.

The summer flowerers, smokebush, snowberry, smooth hydrangea, potentilla and Japanese spirea should be pruned now, in late winter or early spring. The flower buds from these shrubs form on new growth this year.

If you mess up and prune at the wrong time, you won’t kill the shrub but you may sacrifice blooms for that season. Never prune in late summer as that stimulates new growth. It won’t have time to harden off before the cold sets in and you have winter kill.

Now, how to go about the job. Start with a sharp pruning lopper. If you don’t recognize the description, it looks like a scissors.   Make the cut at a slight angle, close to the wood. Just don’t cut into the main stem.

The angled cut sheds water, and heals faster. Cut ¼ of an inch above where there is a bud. You want a bud that is facing to the outside of the shrub. This will direct it to grow outward. Cut any broken branches back to healthy wood. Dead branches should be trimmed back to the base of the plant.

If a branch is crossing another, remove one of them. The constant rubbing can cause an open wound.

If the shrub is totally out of control, you can cut it back to the first bud, anywhere from 4 to 10 inches from the ground. This is best for the summer bloomers like Annabell hydrangea, Japanese spireas and overgrown lilacs.

All plants need good air circulation, shrubs being no exception. If you have one that suckers, whack them off first.

Next, remove up to 1/3rd of the oldest stems. Take them right down to soil level. If the shrub is really shaggy, you may need to do this for several years to get it back in proper shape.

If the shrub is slapping you in the face as you walk by it, covering the window, or just looking wild and woolly, you can give it “haircut.” Cut the offending branches back to a larger branch or bud. You want the plant to look, when done, neat, but not pruned. The cuts should be hidden inside the plant. Again, never remove more than 1/3rd of the shrub in a year.

Now, sharpen your lopper, or saw if the branches have really been ignored, and go to it.


Bev Johnson is a West Otter Tail County Extension Master Gardener.

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