Your garden: you love it, you water it, you pour your time and money into it. But inevitably, there comes a time where you must pull out your sharp, gleaming shears and behead your beloved plants.
Doubtlessly the most intimidating part of gardening, pruning remains a precarious subject for novice and senior gardeners alike. The intention of this guide is to demystify the world of pruning- and provide a bit of reassurance for any hesitations you may have in cutting back your garden.
Some General Rules
If you aren’t familiar already, pruning is the practice of removing parts of the plant to prompt healthy new growth. To do this, all you are going to need are some sharp shears, some bravery, and a bit of knowledge. Pruning is a great tool to optimize the health, shape, size, and bloom quality of your plants, and they will thank you with plenty of new growth and large, vibrant flowers.
When pruning, there are often only a few things that stand between a plethora of beautiful flowers and leaves and a bad haircut – here’s a few rules to ensure a perfect haircut every time:
Cut at 45 degree angles
Parallel to the angle of the bud or shoot you are cutting to
Use sharp shears
Try your best to cut cleanly and confidently across!
Remove crossing or diseased branches
The process of the branches rubbing can often cause wounds to open up in the plants- making them susceptible to diseases and pests, thinning the plant also helps let light penetrate deeper, prompting fuller growth
Prune with the seasons
In the groove of a spring planting day, it can often feel tempting to just do all your pruning then and there, don’t be fooled- this could be the downfall of your garden!
Pruning with the Seasons
Timing may be the most difficult to comprehend component of pruning. Although dead and weak wood can be removed at any time of the year, healthy plants have very specific needs as to when they need to be cut in order to ensure their success. Below, we’ve outlined a handy pruning calendar to shed a bit of light on when to prune, and why.
Pruning in spring often feels counterintuitive- why prune when the garden has only just begun? Early spring bloomers like rhododendrons and azaleas, actually do best when pruned right after they’ve finished producing in the springtime. These types of plants produce and set next year’s buds quickly after blooming- so don’t wait too long before pulling out the shears! Summer blooming flowers- such as roses and spirea- should also be pruned very early spring- just as we transition out of their dormant season!
In the summer- flowering and fruiting trees can be pruned once they are done reproducing if needed, as well as any blooms on flowering shrubs can be lightly trimmed and deadheaded.
Many gardeners utilize the fall to prune back their herbaceous perennials (plants that die off during the winter but send new growth back up in the spring, like hostas) before the weather gets chillier. This is a great strategy, however, these plants are often great to leave until later in the winter to prune, as their seed heads and foliage can act as great winter fuel for travelling birds, helpful native insects, and friendly mammals. In lieu of pruning, fall can be a great time to watch and appreciate the way your garden transitions into a new season.
Even in the depths of winter when it feels like your garden is nothing but a cruel reminder of its former glory- there’s still things you can do! Shrubs that flower on new growth- such as buddleia- can be cut back during this time. This helps to restrict the size of these plants- as otherwise the new growth would sprout on top of the woody shoots from the previous year. This method also helps to encourage larger flowers in the following seasons. In doing this- cut all of the previous years shoots back to two or three shoots from the base- unless you’d like to permanently change the structure of the plants framework.
The Popular Trio
Lastly- a pruning guide could never be complete without mentioning some of the beloved classics, and exactly how to keep them looking perfect.
Hydrangeas are some of the lowest maintenance of our flowering companions. Oftentimes they can get by with very little attention at all. However, when attention is needed- that attention is best given between July and September while the plant is still blooming, in order to ensure it properly sets its blooms for the following year.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas
Rhodos and azaleas, as mentioned earlier in this post- should usually be pruned immediately after they are finished blooming in the spring, but can also be quite agreeable if needed at other times. These vigorous growing shrubs set their buds for the following year quickly following the fading of their current flowers- so gardeners should be sure to schedule their pruning soon after the flowers have finished. For larger, more intensive pruning, this can also be done in the fall and winter when sap levels are lower. Pruning for these plants is usually done to control size or shape- so simply cut the plant to the size and shape you please. If no large scale pruning is needed, just be sure to do a thorough deadhead!
The ideal time to prune roses is at the end of the dormant season, for us in Vancouver (given the weather is being cooperative) this usually lands approximately between February and March, once the threat of hard frost has passed. For moderate pruning- roses can generally be cut back by about one-third, or even further for larger, but fewer, flowers.
We hope this guide has evoked a bit of confidence when it comes to the topic of pruning. If you still find yourself with a few lingering questions- or would rather just bask in the beauty of your garden- please be sure to give us a call.