Prune Your Shrubs, But Avoid the Shears

If all the hedge shears were dumped in the ocean, our plantings would look 100 percent better.

You can't prune with hedge shears; you can only shear. Shearing is all right for a formal hedge, but a disaster for other types of shrubs.

Plants have character. Each species is different, some a low and spreading, some round, others tall and spreading. You need to prune to bring out the plant's character, making sure to keep the plant's natural look.

When you finish pruning, except for size, you should not be able to tell the plant has ever been pruned. Certainly, you don't want to be able to read a newspaper on the other side of the shrub. If you have large over grown foundation plants, be sure to cut them off near the ground or pull them out and replace with more suitable plants. Don't be afraid to remove plants that are too mature.

When pruning plants, make your cuts inside the plants. Don't clip the small twigs. This will make the plant too thick. Keep in mind that new growth puts out just below the cut; therefore, stagger your cuts throughout the plant. If you need growth near the ground, cut some stems near the ground below that bud I mentioned.

Be sure to keep the plant open enough for light to enter and create buds. If it gets too thick on the outside, all foliage will die on the inside. That's why if you open up a cedar or arborvitae shrub, you will find the inside not dead but void of green due to not allowing light into the middle of the plant.

Boxwood is an exception, for example, but even boxwood should not be sheared. Use a knife or pruners to remove the larger branches. Try making the cuts slightly inside the plant and leave the shorter branches unpruned.

Remember, you can do light pruning anytime. Severe pruning should be done in early spring just before growth starts. If blooms are important, prune heaviest when the plants finishing flowering.

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