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Pruning Flowering Shrubs
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at

February 17, 2008

When it comes down to making the cut on pruning, flowering shrubs create some of the most confusion. To prune or not to prune at this time of year is the most important question.

All flowering shrubs, even many of the new so called dwarf versions of the larger varieties need to be pruned. Compact varieties need to be kept compact, and the larger growing varieties need to be kept from overpowering the landscape. It’s a question of timing. As a rule of thumb: flowering shrubs should be and can be pruned after flowering. During the growing season, many varieties not only flower but many also develop and mature new growth to form buds for their particular blooming time. Mophead and Lace Cap hydrangeas, lilacs, forsythias, flowering quinces, corylopsis, daphnes, deciduous azaleas, witch hazels and many viburnums, all have buds in place now for a great display this year. If you want blooms, let them flower first, then prune even if it’s later in the spring or summer. You certainly can prune now if you don’t care about blooms, but you must prune with some caution. The idea is to prune them back to maintain a certain size over the summer, and also to maximize flowering. After all, that’s what they are supposed to do.

When you prune, first cut out any diseased and broken branches. Next, tackle the hard old wood to trim it down and allow room for new growth to flourish. It’s important to renew the plants and to keep them vegetative and fresh looking. Pruning also give you an opportunity to thin out overly thick plants to allow more sunlight and air into the plant as a means to prevent diseases like mildew. It’s both safe and wise to prune back butterfly bushes, bush dogwoods, smoke trees, hardy fuchsias, Peegee hydrangeas, ninebark potentilla, hardy shrub roses, spiraeas, flowering elderberries tamarix and weigelas at this time of year.

Now is a great opportunity to both tidy up and get your winter garden in shape for spring. By pruning the right flowering shrubs now, you are maintaining the integrity of the plant, improving its overall health and vigour, as well as improving its flowering ability for later in the season. By leaving the plants that already have buds and are ready to flower, you can look forward to a sequence of flowers throughout the early part of the season.


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