For many a novice gardener, pruning can be intimidating. Knowing when to do it and how much to take off comes with experience. I confess I am still learning too. I have written about pruning several of my trees and bushes. Some of these attempts worked out better than others.
Lilac – Last spring, my lilac bushes were blooming well but they were out growing their space and looked very misshapen. Lilacs, like many early bloomers, set their buds for next year right after they bloom. Knowing this, I got the ‘ole clippers out as soon as the blooms withered. I clipped off all of the dried clusters and branches that were way too long by hand with a set of sharp pruners. A lilac should NEVER be pruned with hedge clippers. During the summer the bush filled in well and now as a nice shape. Sadly, it didn’t produce many blooms this year.
Azaleas – As with the lilacs, I pruned my azaleas as soon as the flowers turned brown last spring. In this case I used my hedge clippers. I am hoping to shape the row into a low hedge over time. Since the individual bushes vary in height quite a bit I did not cut the taller ones all the way down to the height of shortest ones; patience being a virtue and all. I am glad I took this approach. This year the row is filling out nicely and bloomed spectacularly.
Butterfly bush – Last year I didn’t prune them at all. As a result they got very leggy and didn’t bloom particularly well. So in March, even though I was quaking in my gardening clogs, I got out the heavy-duty pruner and the saw. Yup, the SAW. I cut each trunk to about 3 feet from the ground. Now, the bushes are huge, nicely shaped and are starting to bud.
Hydrangea – Usually I cut down my hydrangeas in the late fall. I harvest the dried flower clusters for crafts and cut the stalks down to a few inches above the ground, knowing that they will bloom only on the new wood. Unfortunately, other projects prevented me from doing so before winter came. By the time I had a chance to do it in the Spring there was already some growth so I left some stalks long and cut the rest low. Now, the bush is full of flowers but it doesn’t have the nice round shape it should. This isn’t a tragedy as I can correct it this Fall buy cutting the bush down properly.
When pruning remember these simple tips:
- Know the best time of year to prune each variety.
- Know how much or little to cut off. Less is usually more but not always.
- Use the right tool; hand pruners, hedge clippers etc.
- Make sure your tools are sharp and clean.
- If you are cutting back a “sick” plant disinfect your tools in bleach before using them again.
photos by Brandie Shaw