Pruning When You Feel Like It

      Most of us are “I’ll prune it when I feel like it” gardeners which is usually okay but springtime pruning can make some crucial differences in how plants bloom and grow…plants like…

The Ubiquitous Rhody

     Every self-respecting South Sound gardener has at least one. It’s practically a requirement…the hybrid Rhododendron. They’re easy to find, easy to grow and Rhodies love what we have to offer… rain, acid soil and (normally) mild winters.

     In return, the Rhody gives back loads of luscious clusters of bell shaped flowers in everything from Sherbet shades to dark and dramatic reds. The flower clusters (or “trusses” in Rhody-speak) are the number one reason we grow them so knowing when to prune them and keep the flowers coming is imperative. Rhodies don’t have to be pruned every year but if you want to reduce the size or reshape one, grab your Felco 2 pruners and start trimming right after they blooms.  Rhodies start making next year’s flowers immediately after blooming. Prune them any later and you’ve lost next year’s flowers. And nobody wants to see a naked Rhody.  

     Azaleas need the same kind of attention. If you want to cut them back or reshape them do the shearing when this year’s flowers start to shrivel and turn brown, i.e. when they start looking a little on the ugly side. For other spring bloomers just remember …

The Magic of June 15

     The general rule for pruning other spring flowering shrubs is to prune by June 15. Any later and you lose the following year’s flower.

     Forsythias. Lilacs, Weigela (not grown nearly enough) and Viburnums will all give you more flowers next year if you prune right after they bloom.

     Evergreen Clematis requires pruning from time to time to keep it under control but a hard pruning after it has bloomed is best done in late spring.

     Spiraea varieties that are pruned and shaped after springtime bloom will likely bloom again. Spiraea can be twiggy and unwieldy to prune so make it easy…tightly tie up the shrub with a rope about one fourth of the way up. Shear the part above the rope into a ball or to recover symmetry. Take off the rope and you have a perfectly shaped Spiraea.

     Berberis (barberry) varieties are grown for their bright, fresh foliage, not their inconspicuous flowers. Those red, orange, chartreuse and Kelly green leaves only happen on new growth so don’t be shy about cutting them back now.

     Pruning is the bane of both new and experienced gardeners. It can be a mystery. Help is here with…

.“Pruning Simplified” by Steven Bradley

      A lot of how-to pruning books are filled with good directions…but in pesky words. That’s great if the directions are clear. Other pruning books present “before and after” glossy pictures which can sometimes be helpful but not always   Short of someone standing next to you and showing you how, nothing better for learning how to prune than a good line drawing with hash marks where you’re supposed to make the cuts. “Pruning Simplified” solves the mysteries of when and how to prune 50 of the most popular shrubs and trees.  It’s a reference book, not a coffee table book. That means it will be well used. It’s a keeper. Timber Press, reprinted for 2019, 192 p., 200 illustrations, $19.95