Basic Techniques For Pruning Shrubs

Pruning Shrubs

When it comes to low maintenance plants that look good throughout the year shrubs are the go-to choice. In many well-established shrubs, the only routine pruning may just involve removing damaged or dead branches. 

There’s also many species of ornamental shrub that benefit, not only from routine maintenance but also from training and pruning to enhance flowering and fruiting.

Basic Techniques For Pruning Shrubs

Pruning shrubs and hedges involve a whole cross-section of techniques from pinching out, cutting woody stems and shearing. This guide will cover the basic rules and techniques to follow that help to keep plants in a good form and keep them healthy.

When To Prune Shrubs

In most instances, early formative training and shaping of a shrub are best carried out when it is dormant. Old shrubs that are in need of renovating and rescuing are best left until winter when they are dormant before pruning. 

Pruning Established Shrubs

Once a shrub is established and the shape and form are in place when you prune will depend on the flowering habit of the shrub.

Shrubs That Flower On New Growth

Pruning shrub in spring

Shrubs that flower on the current season’s growth, that is the new shoots that are produced in the spring onwards. 

Pruning these shrubs is best carried out in late winter through to early spring before these new shoots form. This means the new shoots that are encouraged by the pruning will result in more flowers later in the year.

Shrubs That Flower On Last Years Growth

For shrubs that flower on growth from the previous season, you will want to wait till after the shrub has flowered. 

If you prune early in the year you will be removing stems and branches that are due to flower. If you wait till later in the year after the shrub flowers you will encourage growth that will flower in the following year.

Where To Make Cuts When Pruning Shrubs

The position of the leaves will indicate the best position to make cuts when pruning shrubs. 

Opposite Leaves

pruning shrubs with opposite leaves

If leaves grow opposite each other then making cuts straight across the stem just after a pair of good buds or strong shoots. Make your pruning cuts quite close to the bud or stems to ensure vigorous regrowth from the buds closest to the cut.

Alternate Leaves

If the leaves and buds on a shrub grow alternately you will want to make cuts at a 45-degree angle just after a strong bud. Make the cut starting on the side opposite the bud and try not to make the cut too steep of an angle as the large surface area of the cut will be more susceptible to infection.

Pinching Out Shoots

Pinching out is a technique to encourage a more bushy and fuller shrub. By pinching out the terminal bud on the longest shoot you are encouraging the shrub to direct growth to strong buds along the stem. 

Using your finger and nail of the thumb you can pinch out the soft growth at the end of a shoot and this encourages branching and a fuller, bushier shrub.

Routine Pruning Tasks

Throughout the year there are things to look out for and take care of when you first see it. These are routine pruning jobs that should be applied to all your shrubs.

In particular whenever you see dead, damaged or diseased growth then you will want to remove this as soon as possible back to healthy growth.

Deadheading Shrubs

Deadheading A Rose

Deadheading isn’t required but it can help to keep shrubs looking their best and often will encourage more flowers.

Deadheading is particularly useful for plants and shrubs that are liable to self-seed or to tidy up shrubs that can look a bit worn out after flowering. Deadheading certain shrubs will also encourage more flowers as the plant attempts to go to seed. 

Remove Suckers

Many shrubs have a habit of generating new growth that starts from ground level. This is an effort by the shrub to spread itself but without removing some of the growth from ground level you may find the plant outgrows its position.

If the shrub is grafted to a rootstock you will need to remove all suckers that happen below the graft. Otherwise, if the shrub is not grafted new base shoots can be left and older growth removed to encourage healthy growth. 

Rubbing Or Crossing Branches

Apart from hedges and shrubs that act as barriers, it is not good for the branches of a shrub to cross or get congested.

If branches rub together this can cause wounds that are more prone to disease so we want to prune back crossing branches as soon as possible.

When a plant gets too congested the centre can lack airflow that makes a moist, dark environment that encourages mould and rot. Opening the structure of the shrub by pruning encourages more airflow.

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