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News / Life / Clark County Life

Gardening with Allen: Prune anytime with exceptions

By Allen Wilson, Columbian freelance writer
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:07am

Some of my shrubs are overgrown. Is this a good time to prune?

We live in a mild climate so we can prune just about any time with one or two important exceptions. If you prune spring flowering shrubs like rhododendrons, azaleas and lilacs now, you will remove most of the flower buds. Those buds were set on the plants at the latter part of last summer. So wait until after bloom to prune flowering shrubs. You have about a two- to three-month window to prune until new flower buds set. Hydrangea is another shrub I would wait until later to prune. They are in the midst of their new spring growth. They will develop fine even if they were not pruned last year. You can prune just about any other shrubs now.

If you would like to keep a natural look, do not use power clippers. Power clippers trim the ends off all branches, which causes them to grow artificially thick. They also end up with an artificial round or boxy look. Make individual cuts one at a time with hand pruners.

My favorite way to prune is to start at the bottom and prune back a little bit inside of where I would like the shrub to be when I get through pruning. This allows for a little growth before it is again out of bounds. As you progress up the shrub, prune each branch a little shorter than the ones below. When lower branches are shorter than upper ones, they get shaded. Shaded branches have a tendency to lose their leaves resulting in a bare look.

I like to make my cuts a little inside surrounding foliage. That way the stubs are hidden inside surrounding growth. In areas where growth is too thick, I make about a third of the cuts deeper inside to remove whole branches. This brings a shrub back to its natural thickness. For shrubs which have previously been pruned with power clippers I do this with the entire shrub.

I always use this approach with Japanese maple shrubs. They always grow too thick and look much better if about one third of the branches are removed back to where they originate from a larger branch. I avoid pruning Japanese maples in midsummer. The resulting new growth is quite tender and can burn in hot weather.

Columbian freelance writer