Pruning 101

There are many plants that can be pruned when dormant. From ornamental grasses, to flowering trees, and shrubs, here’s how to give them the nip and tuck they need.

Ornamental Grasses
The best time to cut back ornamental grasses like Maiden and Feather Reed grass is at the end of February/early March. Cutting back ornamental grasses can be a messy task, so I suggest using duct or packing tape and wrapping it just above where you plan to make your cut. Using a pruning saw or electric hedge clippers (this is the only application where electric hedge clippers are allowed, in my opinion) makes for quick clean-up.

Crape Myrtles
Crape Myrtles should be pruned to removed crossing branches, suckers (growth from the bottom), and old blooms. Period. Crape Myrtles should not be taken to their knees or cut back to 2-3 single stalks. Doing so is called “crape murder” and produces weak branching, reduces the number of flowers, and destroys the ability of the tree to grow to its natural graceful and umbrella-like shape and form.  

Pruning shrubs can be tricky and temperature sensitive. As far as Boxwood are concerned, February/March is a great time to prune. Thinning to allow air flow and light into the centers of the plant is ideal. Lightly shaping is also optional.  It is best not to prune ahead of sub-zero temperatures though. This can be detrimental to the plant so be aware of upcoming weather.

Summer Flowering Shrubs
We all love our Spirea, hydrangea, and lilacs! They bring light, life, and energy to our gardens attracting butterflies and bees, our much needed pollinators. Pruning of these flowering shrubs can be tricky so read carefully.

Most Japanese Spirea should be pruned by the end of February/early March, by pruning back to the ground to 8”-10.” Spirea Japonica, also can be pruned at this time. However, Spirea Bumalda and Vanhoutte need to be pruned after they bloom.

The most common hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla, should be pruned in March. Remove dead branches and deadhead blooms from last year. However, Oakleaf Hydrangeas should not be pruned until June/July, after they bloom. It is important you have an idea of what species of hydrangea you have or you might be pruning at the wrong time and may prune potential blooms.

Oh, how we love this sweet-scented southern plant. All lilacs bloom on old growth, so the best time to prune is May/June. It’s important to prune right after they bloom to thin, reduce suckers, and crossing branches as well. Pruning later will take away from the next spring blooms.

Pruning tool tips:

  • Always clean your tools with rubbing alcohol between uses.
  • Keep your tools sharpened for good clean cuts.
  • Never use electric hedge clippers to prune shrubs. They leave “split ends” and are not healthy for the plant.
  • If you need assistance with pruning, please contact a licensed and insured landscape contractor with proven experience and references.  

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