Local Landscapes: A time of renewal: pruning shrubs

March 1, 2014 10:25:26 PM



As warmer weather fills the air, calls are pouring into county Extension offices with anxious gardeners who are ready to work. Whether it is pruning plants, spraying and pulling weeds, or just cleaning up the landscape, they are ready to begin. Like many of you I, too, have enjoyed gardening the last two weeks. I do suspect we are not done with winter just yet, as we normally have a freeze in late March.  


One question I get from gardeners is about when the best time to prune shrubs and trees is. Whether it is your prize winning rose bush, your beautiful crepe myrtle, or even your traditional evergreens, the timing and pruning methods you use are important.  


While some believe fall to be a good time to prune, it has always been my belief that late winter or early spring is a better time. This usually results in less chance of freeze damage to tender plant tissue. The pruned plant also does not look bad for near as long, since it will leaf out soon after being pruned.  


Basic evergreens such as holly, boxwood, cleyera and nandina can be pruned now as little or as much as desired. They will recover with little effort by late spring. Summer-flowering plants like rose, crepe myrtle and rose-of-sharon can also be pruned now.  


Spring-flowering shrubs like azaleas, forsythia, spiarea, quince and many others should not be pruned until after flowering ceases, since they set their bloom buds in the fall. Most of these plants will bloom before May 1. These can usually be pruned from mid-May to mid-June.  




How to 


Tip pruning is the preferred method of horticulturists and is best done with hand-held pruners, as this allows plants to retain their natural shape. Thinning is the process of removing older canes and unwanted growth and is best for cane-type plants and fruit trees. This method works great for crepe myrtles.  


Shearing should only be used to straighten formal hedges. Many gardeners use this method throughout the landscape because it is easy and can provide a well-kept appearance. If you choose to use this method, just remember that plants do not naturally grow "square."' If you are unsure about how to do this, put the shears down!  


Lastly, if a plant has grown completely out of control, you can drastically prune it back to a much lower height and it will rejuvenate over time. Some plants may take some time to look attractive again, depending on the species.  


You can get pruning information at your local Mississippi State University Extension Service or at MSUCares.com. Ask/look for Information Sheet 204, Pruning Landscape Plants.