The right way to Prune Generally Overgrown Shrubs

For many people, this situation could sound acquainted: You progress into a brand new home and every thing is ideal—besides that massive rhodie out entrance that’s threatening to swallow the porch. Or, perhaps you bought a beautiful lilac a number of years in the past and now it’s enveloping half the entrance walkway. I prefer to name the culprits in these circumstances the “beasts” of the backyard: completely great shrubs that are likely to get out of hand. Maybe you planted them firstly of your gardening profession; or perhaps you merely inherited a property with 1 (or 6) of those beasts already in place. Generally, you don’t need to eliminate the shrub fully, however after many many years of being ignored, it’s worthwhile to get issues in test. Fortunately for overwhelmed gardeners, there are particular methods to get these imposing monsters below management as soon as and for all. True, there are much more beasts of the backyard on the market than are talked about right here—however you could possibly cope with them in a trend much like our three examples.

Forsythia (Forsythia spp. and cvs., Zones 5-8)

Photograph: Michelle Gervais

When to prune

It is a good fall undertaking as soon as all of the leaves fall from the plant.

The right way to prune

Forsythia is a plant that runs via your backyard virtually as quick as Usain Bolt. Most people take the ability shears and form it right into a gumdrop. Though this tactic reduces the plant’s dimension within the brief time period, it additionally reduces the flower present in early spring (which is principally the purpose of getting forsythia). Keep in mind: the longer the canes, the extra flowers. Sadly, this can be a 3-year renovation undertaking, relying on the scale of your plant.

pruning forsythia illustrated

what forsythia branches to prune

Begin by yanking out all of the runners till you get to the meat of the plant. Use a pair of loppers or a reciprocating noticed to take away as much as a 3rd of the stems which have a diameter greater than 1 / 4 again to floor degree. At all times take away branches that rub towards one another first, then take away those who have that potential to take action within the close to future. The objective is to have the plant’s stems go up after which cascade right down to appear to be a fountain. After that, observe out the branches from their base and take away any bigger stems that fork into 2, leaving 1 meaty stem in place. I like to depart the topmost ones to create a extra pleasing cascading impact. The branches you permit in place will often have flowering spurs on them, so your present subsequent spring will nonetheless be an excellent one.

Further management suggestions

The thinning of the forked branches must be completed over the following 2 years as a result of, likelihood is, you received’t discover all of the offenders the primary yr. After this, yearly, you may be solely eradicating these branches that get bigger than 1 / 4 in diameter and trimming again any branches touching the bottom.

 Different vegetation that profit from this strategy:

  1. Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica and cvs., Zones 4-9)
  2. Weigela (Weigela spp. and cvs., Zones 4-9)
  3. Deutzia (Deutzia spp. and cvs., Zones 5-8)


Widespread Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp. and cvs., Zones 4-8)

Rhododendron with pink flowers
Photograph: Friedrich Strauss/

When to prune

It is a good fall undertaking as soon as all of the leaves fall from the plant.

The right way to prune

It is a heavy-handed pruning job and never for the faint of coronary heart! You’ll be reducing into the previous wooden severely, all of it, even when it’s as thick as a baseball bat. An excellent rule of thumb is to take away at the least 2/3 of the shrub’s general dimension. Use a big noticed (chain, reciprocating, bow, and many others.) to chop again every main department of the plant’s framework. Attempt to make clear, barely angled cuts simply above a latent bud (small, tannish-pink dots on the bark). If you’re completed, the rhodie will appear to be an previous stump ready to be yanked out by your neighbor’s pickup truck. When the heat of spring arrives, little inexperienced buds will sprout from these “useless” trunks. Bear in mind that the brand new branches won’t bloom the primary yr and it’s greatest to depart these vegetation alone (no different trimming) for the primary yr, too.

pruning rhododendron illustration

Further management suggestions

Within the following years, you are able to do your pruning (thinning, shaping, and many others.) proper after flowering to maintain these beasts in line. Eradicating spent flowers helps fill within the vegetation sooner. This renovation will maintain the plant at bay for about 5 years earlier than you will have to take away it.

Different vegetation that profit from this strategy

  1. Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica and cvs., Zones 6-9)
  2. Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia and cvs., Zones 4-9)


How have you learnt when a shrub will not be value saving?

We’d prefer to assume that each one vegetation are value retaining, however in truth, typically they only aren’t. First think about if you happen to can transplant it. Clearly, you have to think about dimension, well being, and house necessities earlier than making an attempt the transfer. Some vegetation could be relocated to the borders of your property to assist display screen undesirable views. Listed below are a number of occasions when you need to pull the plug:

  1. The shrub is totally one-sided;
  2. You discover injury on the within that may’t be pruned out;
  3. It’s simply too darn huge for the house;
  4. It’s rising into or below partitions, walks, and different architectural components and should trigger or is already inflicting injury.


Old school lilac (Syringa vulgaris and cvs., Zones 3-7)

Old-fashioned lilac
Photograph: Elke Borkowski

When to prune

Late fall (after a variety of onerous frosts) via early spring

The right way to prune

Likelihood is, your previous lilac has a bunch of huge ol’ gnarly trunks. Lilacs additionally have a tendency to supply suckers (branches rising straight up from the bottom). If there are many suckers on the base of your lilac, you possibly can take away most, if not all, of the massive trunks proper at floor degree. If that provides you nervousness, you possibly can go away a number of for construction. At this level, you would possibly need to scale back the footprint of the plant, too. In that case, you possibly can dig the suckers, roots and all, proper out of the bottom. If there are bigger buds on the high of a few of these stems, think about leaving these, until they’re out of bounds; they are going to be almost definitely to supply flower buds. Strive to not take away greater than half of the overall variety of suckers if attainable in an effort to protect the flower show subsequent yr.

pruning old-fashioned lilac illustrated

In case your lilac doesn’t have any suckers across the base, or if somebody has already eliminated all of them, you need to solely minimize out among the huge trunks at the moment. Begin with any that cross or rub one another. The objective is to avoid wasting 2/3 of the nicest trunks which have water sprouts (small branches that develop vertically from an older department or trunk). Lower these trunks as near the bottom as you possibly can, leaving 3 to five water sprouts (which develop rapidly and assist the plant fill out) popping out of the trunks.

Further management suggestions

As for future upkeep, take away any crossing or rubbing branches as they get fatter, take away spent flowers, and proceed to maintain the suckers on the lilac’s base in line. A pointy, deep edge on the mattress surrounding your vegetation will assist. It’s best to be capable of maintain this plant for a lifetime after this renovation.

Different vegetation  that profit from this strategy

  1. Pussy willow (Salix discolor and cvs., Zones 4-9)
  2. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus* and cvs., Zones 5-8)
  3. Tree lilac (Syringa reticulata and cvs., Zones 3-7)

Ed Gregan is a nurseryman with 30 years’ expertise and the coastal Northeast subject consultant for Carlton Crops, a wholesale bareroot grower.

Illustrations: Elara Tanguy

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