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Sheared Forsythia in full bloom. Shearing does not incourage new wood with blossoms

Why prune?
Pruning has a major influence on a shrub’s flowering habit, shape, size and pest
problems.
Prune to Encourage Flowering
Pruning has a major influence on shrub flowering. Over time, an unpruned
flowering shrub becomes woody with little new growth to support flower bud
development.
Spring-flowering shrubs bloom on one-year-old wood (twigs that grew new the
previous summer). Buds develop mid-summer through fall for the following
spring. Pruning in the fall and winter removes flowering wood with buds. Springflowering
shrubs can be rejuvenated or thinned (as described below) in early
spring before flowering or growth starts [Figures 1 and 2]. Thinning can also be
done right after bloom to maximize next season’s flowers. Spring flowering
shrubs include forsythia, Nanking cherry, quince, Bridalwreath and Vanhoutte
spireas, viburnum, beautybush, lilac, honeysuckle, peashrub, deutzia and weigela.
On spring-flowering shrubs it is recommended to “deadhead” spent blooms
(remove flowers after they fade). While time-consuming, it conserves the plant’s
energy, which would otherwise be spent on seedpod and seed development. On
many shrubs, the spent flowers and seedpods are not attractive (lilacs).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1. Spring
flowering shrubs
bloom from buds that
developed on new
wood the previous
summer.

Figure 2. Fall shearing of
this spring flowering lilac
removed flower buds on the
lower section of the shrubs.

 

Summer-flowering shrubs bloom on new wood that grew earlier this growing
season. Summer-flowering shrubs are also pruned by thinning or rejuvenation in
the early spring before growth starts. [Figure 3]
Summer flowering shrubs include most butterflybush, blue mist spirea, Hancock
coralberry, mockorange, potentilla, Spirea bumalda and S. japonica, Annabelle
and Pee Gee hydrangea, shrub-althea (Rose of Sharon), snowberry and St.
Johnswort.
Removing older canes of flowering shrubs also allows better sunlight penetration
into the shrub. This results in better flowering throughout the shrub, instead of
flowers just at the top where sunlight is sufficient.
On shrubs noted for their bark color (like Red-Twig Dogwood), the new shoot
growth has more brilliant color. Routine pruning at the base encourages new
shoots, which have the desired red color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prune to Direct Shape
Shaping is another reason for pruning shrubs. Shape can be managed to some
degree by pruning to side buds or branches growing in the desired direction.
While pruning has some control over size, it is not an effective method to keep a
large shrub in a small space. Where shrubs have overgrown their space, consider
replacing the plants with smaller cultivars or other species. [Figures4 and 5]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prune to Direct Shape
Shaping is another reason for pruning shrubs. Shape can be managed to some
degree by pruning to side buds or branches growing in the desired direction.
While pruning has some control over size, it is not an effective method to keep a
large shrub in a small space. Where shrubs have overgrown their space, consider
replacing the plants with smaller cultivars or other species. [Figures4 and 5]
Prune to Manage Pests
Pruning is a management technique for some insect or disease problems. For
example, removing the older wood in lilac reduces oystershell scale and borer
problems. Thinning a shrub to increase air circulation reduces the amount of
powdery mildew and leaf spot diseases.
Pruning Methods for Flowering Shrubs
The primary objective in pruning flowering shrubs is to encourage new (flowering)
growth from the base. This is best accomplished by thinning at the base or
rejuvenation.
Branch by Branch Shaping
With branch to branch shaping, shorten the length of excessively long branches by
cutting them back one-by-one. Cuts are made back in the shrub leaving branches
at varying lengths. Avoid making cuts at a uniform “edge” creating a rounded
ball. Make cuts at appropriate branch unions (crotch) or buds. [Figure 6]
This method maintains a more natural shaped shrub, but does not significantly
encourage new growth of flowering wood for maximum bloom. Branch by branch
shaping is a slow process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shearing to Shape


Shearing shrubs to a round ball or other desired shape is a common pruning
technique because it is quick and easy. However, sheared shrubs lose their natural
shape and the rounded “balls” may detract from a more natural informal landscape
design. Shaping spring flowering shrubs after mid-summer removes the new wood
with next year’s blossoms. Frequent shearing does not encourage new growth
from the base, which is needed to promote flowering.
With frequent shearing, the plant becomes bushier on the exterior. The thick outer
foliage may shade out the interior and lower foliage and the plant becomes a thin
shell of foliage with a woody interior and base. The thin shell of foliage is prone
to browning and burning from wind and cold weather. Over time, shrubs become
woody with lots of dead branches and few flowers. When shrubs become overly
woody from routine shearing, replacement is the best option to refresh the
landscape design.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinning     One Method to encourage shrub flowering is annual thinning. The objective is to remove one third of the oldest wood to the ground each year, which in turn stimulates new (better flowering) growth from the base of the shrub. Thinning is more easily done withleafless branches in early spring before growth starts but can also be done in summer. This method is time consuming and doesn't work well on twiggy shrubs (spirea)

Cutting back and thinning an overgrown shrub will not restore its natural informal form. It will look like an overgrown shrub that has been pruned. Rejuvination pruning followed by thinning is better for over grown shrubs.

Renewal pruning (rejuvenation) - Many shrubs can easily be renewed with rejuvenation pruning. The shrub is cut entirely to the ground in early spring before growth starts. The shrub regrows from roots, giving a compact youthful plant with maximum bloom. Rejuvination can have a major effect on size. The method is preferred for many flowering shrubs because it is quick and easy with great results. Initial rejuvination should be followed by thinning new canes to several strong ones over the next several years. Remove weak cane growth at the base (ground level)

Rejuvination is typically done no more than every three to five years when a shrub begins to look gangly and woody. It works very well on multi-stemmed, twihhy-type shrubs such as spirea, Caryopteris (blue mist spirea, Potentilla, Red Twig Dogwood, Sumac and Hydrangea. (Note: Caryopteris flowers best if renewed each year.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over time sheared shrubs become woody with dead sections. The only treatment at this time is to replace the shrub
Figure 4. Shape can be
managed to some extent by
pruning to buds and
branches growing in the
desired direction of growth.

 

Figure 5. Pruning to
inward growing buds
or branches results
in narrower shrubs.
Pruning to outwardgrowing
buds or
branches results in
wider shrubs. [Line
drawing by USDA]

Figure 3. Summer
flowering shrubs bloom
from buds that developed
on new wood that grew
earlier this growing
season.
Figure 6. With branch to branch
shaping, long branches are cut back
into the shrub, giving a more natural
shape. Avoid making cuts at a uniform“edge”, creating a rounded ball.
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