Don’t Hack Your Shrub – Prune It Correctly

Avoid leaving stubs when you prune branches

If you are pruning, remove all stubs from previous pruning and always cut the stem close to the source when removing branches.

Remove one of the branches if it is crossing another

Stems twisted within each other need to be untangled and pruned to avoid this problem.

Every year after our spring flowering shrubs finish blooming they are cut with pruning shears in some of the oddest shapes: squares, lolly pops, and wedges to name a few. That is NOT what you should do. For any of these shrubs you need to prune, get a pair of pruners or loppers and follow these few simple instructions.

  • For plants like forsythia, quince, and spring flowering spiraea, trace the limbs to the base and remove them at their source. First, remove crossed branches before removing other limbs to reduce their size. This allows them to have their natural shape, which is beautiful.
  • For shrubs that are leafing out and will bloom later in the spring or summer, remove crossed and twisted branches and stubs that were left over from previous cuts. Wait until after flowering or fruit set to do major pruning.
  • For evergreen shrubs like hollies, hawthorns, and boxwoods, do not shear unless you want a hedge, but rather go down into the plant, find the source of the limb, and remove. This will loosen up these plants which will allow more light into their interior and help generate more foliage other than just at the tips.
  • Remember, for florist hydrangeas do not prune any foliage, as this is where the blooms will occur in summer. Only prune these hydrangeas after flowering in summer.

Pruning is not hard, but done right the beauty of the shrub shows, and it does not look like an “odd ball” in your garden.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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