Whenever my Dad was asked when the best time to trim shrubs or hedges was, he had a stock answer. “Whenever the saw is sharp,” he would say. Little did he know that there is a definite time of year when shrubs and hedges should be pruned. His advice probably contributed to the reason our neighborhood had the poorest looking ‘greenery’ in Northwest Iowa. If Dad were still with us and read that last statement, I know he would say, “Was it really that bad?” Some ‘Iowegians’ never did catch on! After the folks moved into town and had a nursery do the landscaping around the new house, he never trimmed the shrubs and hedges himself. One day a total stranger, a lady, stopped by when they were sitting on the deck and suggested that he trim the plants. He never told us what his response to her was, but he vowed never to trim them after that. The Pickle Queen and I finally took pitty on the neighborhood and trimmed them every year after that. It took a few years to get them looking presentable. Enough memories, on to the topic.
Pruning flowering trees and shrubs at the wrong time of year can result in little flowering that year.
Spring flowering trees and shrubs develop flower buds for the following year on the current year’s summer growth. If you heavily prune these plants in late winter, you will remove most of the flower buds which will result in little or no flowering. Instead, prune these spring flowering trees and shrubs after the flowers have faded in late spring for the best flower display the following year.
Late summer or early fall flowering trees and shrubs flower from buds that are formed on the current season’s growth. The best time to prune these trees and shrubs is during late winter or in the spring.
Pruning during the fall or midwinter season, will leave open wounds that will lose moisture causing dieback which will require more pruning in the spring to remove the dead stubs. Pruning cuts made during the spring, just before or during active growth will seal over quickly forming a callus, preventing both moisture loss and dieback.
Be sure to make your cuts on young shoots about 1/4 inch above a bud or twig. Cutting to far out will leave a stub while cutting closer can damage the remaining buds. Before making the cut, observe the direction that the bud is pointing. This is the direction that the shoot, which becomes a branch, will grow. If it looks as if the branch will eventually interfere with another branch, choose a different bud to cut above. Like a Christmas tree, if a wide space needs to be filled, prune at buds (branches) pointing outward. If the tree or shrub needs to be narrower, prune at buds (branches) pointing toward the center of the plant.
Sharpen your saw or snipers and prune away. If you screw up this year, don’t do it the same way next year. When I was still getting my hair cut, I always carried a stocking cap with me when I went to the hair cutting shop, just in case. I haven’t seen a stocking cap big enough to cover a shrub or hedge, so as Dad often said, “Watch a little bit out!”
Keep your fork