As we enter early spring, leaving winter and any real hard weather behind, February is a really good time to prune deciduous shrubs. This will maximise the coming growing season’s potential growth.
Most deciduous shrubs that have lost their shape or need their growth restricting can be hard pruned now. It is quite amazing to see just how vigorously hard pruned shrubs grow back over the coming months.
Before you start pruning, carefully assess the plant to see what shape you are trying to achieve. Then start pruning carefully. Remember to stand back regularly to assess what further work needs to be done to achieve your goal rather than attacking it with one big hack.
Branches up to 1cm in diameter can be tackled with a good pair of secateurs. Larger branches will need a pair of loppers or a pruning saw according to size. Aim to remove weak, crossing or rubbing branches and any that appear to be diseased until the desired shape is achieved. Try to prune back to an obvious point such as where another branch grows out or to an obvious dormant bud. It is best to avoid great ‘amputations’ that can result in masses of weak regrowth that also spoils the shape of the shrub.
Most summer and autumn flowering shrubs will still flower normally the same year if pruned now. If they don’t, they will usually reward you with an extra heavy flowering the following year. Spring flowering shrubs are best pruned after flowering. However if you need to prune now then you’ll only lose the flowering for one season. Plus the plant will probably flower more strongly the following year.
There are some exceptions:
Japanese acers can react quite poorly to hard pruning.
Some shrubs such as Amelanchier are better thinned. This means selectively remove entire branches, thereby keeping an open structure. This maintains their grace rather than an all-over prune.
For some flowering shrubs, such as Lilac, Mock Orange, etc, the traditional advice would be to work to a three year cycle. Completely cut out the oldest stems/branches, roughly a third of them each year. This keeps the shrub refreshed and to stop it getting too congested and woody. You don’t need to worry too much about doing this if the shrub is still relatively young. It’s more of a factor when the shrub is already getting quite old and woody and needs “restoring”. If you do just prune the whole thing back hard at this time of year it will produce lots of new, young growth which, if it doesn’t flower this year, will do so next year. There’s no need to over complicate pruning and no need to worry.
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