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A Recipe For Pruning

Garden Reports and Rejoicing – September 28

  1. Approach most plants with by-pass pruners only.
  2. Cut out all dead wood first. Do this at any time. Remove it all. Repeat to yourself, “If it’s dead, it’s gone!”
  3. Look for any stems that are weak, misshapen, obviously diseased or otherwise funky. Cut these out by following them back to where they join another stem or the trunk, and cut them off there.
  4. Next, prune in order to improve the appearance of the plant, not to control size. Take off any branches/stems that are growing toward the center of the plant first. Secondly, look for any branches/stems that are crossing and rubbing each other…take one of these out.
  5. In places where you want a plant to grow thicker, cut the stems back where you want that bushier growth to be. This is called a “heading cut.”
  6. Don’t cut the top of shrubs or trees flat unless you purposely want to create topiaries or living coffee tables.
  7. Your general rule of thumb should be to prune spring-flowering plants right after they finish flowering, and prune summer-flowering plants in the spring. Those shrubs that flower in June should be considered “spring flowering.”
  8. Another general rule is to take off about a third of the growth only. Whether you’re removing things branch by branch, or shearing everything off the top and sides, take off a third of the plant’s total mass. There are exceptions, of course. An example: butterfly bush gets a renewal pruning every spring by cutting it down to about 12” tall…in this case you’re taking off three quarters or more of the plant’s total size.
  9. Photos to follow.


5 comments to A Recipe For Pruning

  • Hi C.L.
    I thank-you for the refresher-course for pruning.
    As with each year I may FORGET on some! 🙂

  • Donna B.

    Oh how I do await photos! I’m always weary when it comes to pruning… I think next year will be the Hydrangea’s turn for a slight pruning…
    I am eagerly awaiting any more information about the Butterfly Bush. I was too scared to cut it down to a foot or so when it grew to about eight feet last summer. This year it’s a good 12 feet high! But very lanky… [and actually fell over in the 2010~2011 snowfall…] I think a proper pruning is in order….

  • rich sadowski

    Clear, concise and always understandable. Thank you C.L.

  • bill

    i cut mine down to 12 inches every mid march before leaves form ,does great

  • I’m assuming you’re talking about the butterfly bush, Bill. I do that too and they grow to 6′ tall by August.