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Pruning Schedule for Shrubs: In the Nick of Time  

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Noteworthy Books on Pruning

Cover Art
An Illustrated Guide to Pruning - Edward F. Gilman
Call Number: SB435.76 .G54 2012
ISBN: 9781111307301
Publication Date: 2011-08-08

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Cass Turnbull's Guide to Pruning - Cass Turnbull
Call Number: SB125 .T87 2012
ISBN: 9781570617515
Publication Date: 2012-11-20

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How to Buy the Right Plants, Tools, and Garden Supplies - Jim Fox
Call Number: SB450.97 .F693 2013
ISBN: 9781604692143
Publication Date: 2013-02-26

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Illustrated Guide to Pruning - Edward F. Gilman
Call Number: SB435.76 .G54 2002
ISBN: 9780766822719
Publication Date: 2001-12-18

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Pruning Made Easy - Lewis Hill
Call Number: SB125 .H468 1997
ISBN: 1580170072
Publication Date: 1998-01-02

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Pruning Trees, Shrubs and Vines - Karan D. Cutler
Call Number: SB125 .C87 2003
ISBN: 1889538590
Publication Date: 2003-09-01

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The Pruning Book - Lee Reich
Call Number: SB125 .R38 1997
ISBN: 1561581607
Publication Date: 1997-01-01

Cover Art
The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers - George E. Brown; Tony Kirkham; George Ernest Brown
Call Number: SB125 .B73 2004
ISBN: 0881926132
Publication Date: 2004-02-15

Cover Art
The Timber Press Encyclopedia of Flowering Shrubs - Jim Gardiner
Call Number: SB435 .G378 2011
ISBN: 0881928232
Publication Date: 2012-03-06


Pruning Schedule for Shrubs: In the Nick of Time

Many shrubs need to be pruned on a yearly basis to maintain health. But getting to know your plants is a slow process, often involving a few initial casualties. As a general rule of thumb, plants that flower early in spring or flower on old wood (previous season's growth) should be pruned immediately after they flower. Plants that flower on new wood (current season's growth) can be pruned in late winter or early spring. Here is an overview of what to prune and when. These are guidelines for Zone 6 and higher.

There are a number of plants that respond well when pruned back hard every year in winter to early spring. They tend to produce vigorous new growth and more flowers. Some classic examples are repeat-flowering roses (e.g. hybrid teas and modern shrub roses), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), and blue mist shrub (Caryopteris). The first season, leave the shrub alone. The following year, when buds swell around mid-April, cut the stems back, leaving two or three buds per stem. Every subsequent year, follow the same procedure. Clean out the deadwood as well. This pruning technique will create a multi-stemmed candelabrum of stumps sprouting a multitude of vigorous new shoots that grow into a shapely and floriferous shrub each year.

Some shrubs are planted for a specific effect: pussy willows (Salix) for the catkins and red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea) for the ornamental stems. Cutting the majority of the stems back hard (down to 6 inches for the pussy willow and to the ground for the dogwoods) ensures that you will have vigorous new growth with bright color and plenty of catkins. Beautyberry (Callicarpa) also benefits when its oldest stems are cut to 6 inches in late winter so that the plant can send up new growth covered with glorious purple berries.

Some shrubs flower on old wood and produce beautiful ornamental berries. In these cases, you can either prune immediately following flowering or prune lightly in early spring. Either way, you will be reducing the amount of berries. Some examples are scarlet firethorns (Pyracantha) and many viburnums (Viburnum).

It's important to get to know your shrubs. Daphne (Daphne) resents being pruned. It is short-lived in the NYC area, performing well for 3 to 5 years and then quickly fading. Witch-hazels (Hamamelis) can be cut back hard but prefer to be handled gently; these long-lived shrubs have a beautiful vase shape and are generally best left alone. English boxwood can be sheared to your heart's delight once the weather warms, but it's important to stop late in the season so the foliage can harden off before the cold.

Here is a list of the best times to prune your trees and shrubs. Before you prune, make sure you have comfortable, sharp, clean, pruning tools to work with.


Prune after flowering (early blooming or flowers on year-old wood):

Berberis barberry     
Calycanthus Carolina allspice
Chaenomeles flowering quince
Chimonanthus wintersweet
Deutzia deutzia
Forsythia forsythia
Fothergilla witch alder
Hydrangea macrophylla bigleaf hydrangea (See note below in prune early.)
Hydrangea quercifolia oakleaf hydrangea
Itea virginica Virginia sweetspire (If desired, hard prune in late winter, when you can see what you're doing.)
Kolkwitzia beautybush
Philadelphus mockorange
Rhododendron rhododendrons and azaleas
Salix pussy willows
Spiraea x arguta 'Bridal Wreath', S. thunbergii & S. veitchii early blooming spirea ( 'Bridal Wreath', Thunberg and Veitch)
Syringa lilacs
Viburnum viburnum
Weigela weigela


Prune early (before flowering):

Abelia glossy abelia
Callicarpa beautyberry
Clethra summersweet
Cornus sericia red twig dogwood
Cotinus smoke tree
Hibiscus hibiscus, rose-of-sharon
Hydrangea arborescens smooth hydrangea
Hydrangea macrophylla bigleaf hydrangea (Note: This plant flowers on year-old wood and can be pruned after flowering. The tips of the branches tend to die back in this climate, and a light pruning to a healthy pair of buds works best in early spring. Do not get carried away or you will remove too many flower buds.)
Hydrangea paniculata PeeGee hydrangea
Ilex holliy
Lespedeza bush clover
Spirea japonica summer blooming spirea
Symphoricarpos snowberry
Vitex chaste tree


Plants that rarely need pruning:

Amelanchier serviceberry
Calycanthus * Carolina allspice
Crataegus hawthorn
Daphne daphne
Fothergilla * witch alder
Halesia silver-bell tree
Hamamelis  witch-hazel
Kalmia latifolia mountain laurel
Kolkwitzia * beautybush
Lindera spicebush
Mahonia Oregon grape
Oxydendrum sourwood tree
Pieris pieris, andromeda 
Rhododendron * rhododendron
Skimmia skimmia

* If you decide to prune these plants, adhere to the recommended pruning schedule in the two top tables.

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