Make a chart of the types of bushes you haveEvery bush has a characteristic shape and size, and for each there is a best
pruning technique to bring out the maximum beauty of its flowers, branch
color and structure. Some require little pruning; others more. For the best
pruning results, identify all your bushes and learn about their unique
attributes. Bushes vary widely by region, so the most reliable way to identify
the ones you don't recognize is to take a clipping to a nursery. Usually
the nursery will have reference books with a photo of the characteristic
shape and can tell you the mature size, as well as special pruning instructions.
Keep the key information on a rough sketch of your yard. Tip: You
can prune almost everything in early spring. Just be sure to get to it!
Cut out dead, damaged, diseased and deranged branches
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Thin bad branches
Some arborists call these the 4 Ds.
Start with the dead and damaged
branches, because they make the
plant look bad, and encourage rot
and disease. Also cut out wilted,
dried or diseased branches as soon
as you spot them, to remove the disease
before it spreads. “Deranged”
includes a broad range of branches
that cross (the rubbing wears away
the bark), loop down to
the ground or simply look out of
character with the bush (stick out at
an odd angle or grow alongside the
trunk). This pruning also thins out
the bush, opening its interior to more
light and air, which encourages
fuller, healthier growth.
Prune out about one-third of the branches of bushes that grow from canes
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Cane-type bushesCane-type bushes, such as forsythia
and hydrangea, usually send up
new canes from their roots every
year. In general, prune out the oldest
(larger) wood to control the
bush height. It's also OK to trim out
newer canes to thin the interior of
the plant and let in light as well as
to control its spread. If one of these
bushes has gotten too big and out of
control, you can often cut off all the
canes and the roots will send up
new shoots. You'll have a nice new
bush in a year or two. Note: All
bush categories have exceptions to
these rules. So know your plants!
Clip off branch tips to promote small-branch growth and denser foliage
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Cut the branch tip just beyond a bud.
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Next year growth will be channeled into the side branches, making a fuller appearance.
This “heading off” technique channels
more growth energy to smaller side
branches, which will then fill in
vacant areas. Make this cut at a side
branch or 1/4 in. beyond a bud. Be selective and watch the
results from the previous year to help
gauge future growth. It works best on
bushes and trees that grow mostly
from one or a few stalks, as opposed to
bushes that continually send up new
shoots (suckers), like lilacs and
Don't trim new growth with hedge shears!
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It's tempting to grab the hedge shears and shape a bush by cutting off the
branch tips. This “flattop haircut” approach may look fine for a year or two,
but it stimulates growth on the outermost branches, forces the bush to grow
into an unnatural shape (your idea rather than the plant's) and fails to control
size. The bush actually grows larger and becomes more difficult to bring
back to size without being ruined. The exception is hedge-type bushes.
Remove entire branches to shape the bush and control its size
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Whole branch cuts
If neglected, many bushes
get too big and dense.
While the foliage might
look OK this year, next
year it just might be too
big to prune back without
butchering it. Instead, it's
better to control size and
shape by selectively pruning
out a few entire
branches each year. Cut
them at a larger branch or
the trunk. This also opens
the plant to light and
encourages healthy growth
from the interior.
Prune evergreens lightly
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Unlike cane-type bushes,
evergreens and other “nonsucker–
type” grow from
their existing stems. They
develop a more permanent
branch framework and usually
need less pruning. If
your landscaping was well
planned, these bushes, especially
evergreens, will grow
to fit their spot with relatively
little help. They'll need
only a light annual pruning
to remove dead branches and
to control size and shape.
Make pruning cuts just beyond the branch “collar”
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Branch collar location
Cut or saw branches at the collar— just above where the branch joins the main trunk.
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Healthy collar cut
The tree will seal off and heal a properly cut collar.
The branch collar is the bark swell that encircles the
branch. If left intact, this collar will soon grow over
and cover the wound. Don't leave stubs. They'll rot
and might become diseased.
Don't force a big bush to conform to a small space by pruning
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It can be done, but it's easier to pull out an overgrown
bush and plant one that will mature at a size that better
fits the space.