Advice on When to Prune Shrubs – Mostly Wrong?

Advice on When to Prune Shrubs – Mostly Wrong?

In a recent post I mentioned hiring an expert to teach my coop to prune their (damn) shrubs and linked to the pruning instruction that resulted. The shocker to me and most gardeners, I’m betting, is this bit of advice from the professional pruners:

she told us that euonymus can be hand-pruned any time of the year, and that almost all shrubs can be, too.

But-but-but doesn’t EVERYONE tell us to prune flowering shrubs soon after they’ve bloomed, to avoid removing the next year’s blooms? For example, typical advice for azaleas is that “If you prune azaleas after the beginning of July, you may not get any flowers on the bush next year.”

Yes, shearing would remove most or all of next year’s buds if done too late, but shearing azaleas is not advised, anyway.

The expert we hired, from a 29-year-old company whose sole job is to prune shrubs, told us that hand-pruning – for a more natural look, better plant health, and less maintenance – can be done any time the temperatures are above freezing, for all but a few plants.

What a revelation! I’d questioned the narrow timing window for pruning myself. “Hmm,” I said to myself, “if I’m just removing branches and flowers where I don’t want them, what’s the harm?” Or as our expert’s boss told me on the phone, instead of 450 blooms you may have just 420, but they’re where you want them and they’re displayed on a better looking plant. She added that here in the Azalea Belt of the Mid-Atlantic, “If we had to prune all the azaleas within a month after blooming, I’d have to hire 3 times the staff!”

Looks like another case of over-generalization in advising about plants, which may just be my pet rant.

Our expert’s general advice on timing?

When lecturing to garden clubs I always start by saying “the best time to hand prune your shrubs is…when you have time.” Our pruning techniques can be used any time of year (except for 5 shrubs) and they will still bloom beautifully on well shaped visually pleasing shrubs.

If you have the time and find it easy to remember to prune each shrub after it flowers that’s a good strategy too.  As long as you are hand pruning and not shearing, timing is what you want and need it to be.

So what ARE the five shrubs that can’t be pruned just anytime? The very few that should only be pruned in winter are roses, wisteria, buddleia, caryopteris and (sub-shrub) Russian sage.

Photos are of azaleas at the National Arboretum.



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