What to Prune and When

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I’ve already started receiving the pruning questions this fall. The question I’m referring to is, “When can I prune my ___ plant this year?”. You can fill in the blank with any number of plants. Some of the more popular ones include hydrangea, fruit tree, blueberry, and oak tree.

Fortunately, Virginia Tech did some research on this several years ago and published A Guide to Successful Pruning. It features a series of calendars for pruning  shrubs, deciduous trees, calendar, and evergreen trees. I still find these calendars helpful.

When to prune some flowering plants is fairly simple to remember if you know when they flower. For example, some hydrangeas bloom in early spring, while others wait until summer to bloom. Spring blooming plants should be pruned shortly after they flower and before July 4th as they set flower buds on old wood. Summer flowering plants set flower buds on new growth, making it safe to prune them during winter months (January – March) to keep the plant compact.

Not only does this rule of thumb work for shrubs, but it also works for flowering trees. Dogwood trees flower in April or May and should be pruned for shape shortly after the flowers have finished. So, that means you can prune dogwoods in June. Camelia plants bloom anywhere from October to April and should be pruned to shape them up shortly after the petals drop from the plants completing the pruning by the end of May.

Most evergreen trees are best pruned in the winter while the plant is dormant. Keep in mind that most evergreen trees don’t need to be pruned except to remove dead, damaged, or diseased wood. Shaping the plant may be needed to keep it out of the way of walkways and drives, or to remove a codominant leader (a forked trunk that can cause the tree to be weak or split).

As far as that goes, my wife likes to decorate for Christmas using evergreen branches, berries, and boughs. We will remove just what we need for decorating and let the rest of the plant grow naturally with all its colorful berries and glossy leaves.