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Spring Pruning Tips for Your Shrubs

Posted by on in Plant Care
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"If you love it you will prune it." My garden friend’s father says this and I have to say it is pretty sound gardening advice.  Most plants, especially shrubs and woody perennials can benefit from a strong pruning. 

Many shrubs can get too wispy, lanky or open and a hard cutting back rejuvenates the plant, encouraging it to regrow thicker, fuller and lusher than before.  For instance, my bayberries, privet and shrub dogwood have always benefited from a robust early spring pruning.  However, before you start running through the garden with loppers (which you obviously should never do) you should first consult your plant guide for the best time to prune.  Knowing when to prune will save you from accidently cutting off this year’s long anticipated flowers.

What to prune in early spring?  Roses for one.  If you have not already pruned back your roses, especially shrub roses, now is the time.  A good pruning followed by removal of dropped leaves and stems, refreshing of mulch and adding a rose specific fertilizer will start them off on the right foot.  Rubbing and scraping branches are another item to prune now.  Before your shrubs and trees leaf out, you can more easily see and select broken or damaged branches and branches that are rubbing against each other for removal.  Some pruning is done for aesthetic reasons, other times it is done to take out wound inflicted branches.  This is done to protect the plant from diseases that will want to take advantage of open wounds on branches.

If you have Potentilla in your garden (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for?) now is the time to prune them too.  They are an example of a shrub which can be pruned close to the ground to encourage new growth and bountiful blooms this season.   Buddleia, Hypericum and Caryopteris are other examples.  Potentilla are sun loving little plants that offer a flush of pastel colored blooms. Cutie Pie Pink™ and Lemon Sweetie™ are two in the HGTV HOME Plant Collection.  Not only do they have no fail blooms, these petite beauties are small, compact in nature (3’x3’) which makes them a work horse in the landscape.  They are ideal for edging a garden, walk, around the base of a garden feature such as a birdbath or obelisk and they are just as at home in a pot on the balcony or porch.  

Pruning Tips:  As I shared, always consult your garden guides or plant tags for the best time to prune.  Ensure your cutters are sharp. The ripping and tearing of branches resulting from dull pruners makes the plant susceptible to disease and it looks messy.  Pruner maintenance is a key to success.  After pruning, clean the blades with a dry cloth. Keep in mind that shears, loppers and any cutting tool can potentially harbor disease so consider disinfecting your tool after cutting a sick plant before pruning healthy ones so no transfer takes place.  Giving your tools a yearly ‘spring’ cleaning before the gardening season or before putting them away for the winter, is a good habit to establish.  There are specially formulated gardening disinfectants made for tools but there are many household cleaning products that will work just as well too.  Also, blades dull, so carefully sharpen the blades as needed.  Pick the best size pruners.  A well maintained, sharp pruner should be able to cut through a branch in one cut. If you can’t cut the branch with one pass of the blades you are probably using pruners that are too small.

Cleanup:  Always remove dead branches, leaves and cuttings from the garden as they could contain or promote disease. If you know the plant cuttings are diseased dispose of them properly, otherwise toss them in the compost pile. Your garden bed will look better and your plants will thank you!


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