The Art of Pruning Shrubs

By: David Yost, Merrifield Plant Specialist

Pruning is one of the best things you can do for your shrubs. Well-pruned shrubs will grow fuller with a more attractive shape, produce more flowers, and be healthier overall. While pruning has some wonderful benefits, it’s often one of the most skipped gardening tasks. That’s likely because we’re all scared of making the cut!

You can calm this fear by going into your pruning project with a clear objective. For example, you need to determine if you’d like to:

  • Manage the size of the plant to prevent it from overgrowth
  • Increase flower production
  • Correct structural problems
  • Highlight the form

The most common reason people prune is to manage overgrowth. But, what many don’t realize is that regular pruning can prevent the overgrowth issue in the first place. Regular pruning maintains the shrubs size and prevents breakage during the winter months by managing the structure. It even creates more flowers as the shrub redirects its energy into flower production rather than overgrowth.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can determine the proper technique and place to make the cut. Common pruning techniques include:

  • Heading: Trimming long, unbranched stems by cutting above a healthy bud. This encourages lower branches to develop.
  • Renewal: Cutting back all of the stems to within an inch of the ground during dormancy. Come spring, the plants will produce new shoots from the base. Often people do this with vigorous growers, such as roses and butterfly bush, to keep them smaller, more compact and fuller with blooms.
  • Thinning: Removing selected shoots or the main stem to open up the middle of the plant to more sunlight. This helps to maintain the natural form, keeps the interior branches healthy and encourages new growth
  • Shearing: Trimming the plant around the outside to restore structure in the landscape setting.

The actual art of pruning comes in with the limb selection process. You can use your own personal judgement to select the limbs to remove to create the shape and look you’re trying to achieve. Proper pruning can turn your landscape into a work of art with all of the elements fitting together properly within the composition.

Once you’ve mastered the techniques, it’s just a matter of timing. Most people prune when it’s convenient for them, but the key is pruning when it’s best for the plant. The right timing will ensure you don’t end up chopping off all of your viburnum buds or leaving your juniper with a bald spot. Join Merrifield Plant Specialist, David Yost, at Fair Oaks at 10 am on Saturday, January 14, to see when you can apply these pruning techniques to some of your favorite shrubs.