3810 Whites Creek Pike, Nashville, TN 37207 (615) 876-1014

Archive date:  June 27, 2002

Late Spring Pruning

So many shrubs, so little time...

If you have not pruned your early spring blooming shrubs and you plan to. Then pull out those pruners quick! Spring blooming shrubs generally bloom from the previous year’s growth. If you prune these shrubs too late in the growing season, you are likely to remove all or most of the buds that were set to flower the following year. This is most commonly the culprit when bigleaf garden hydrangeas do not bloom. The twiggy sticks of these plants may not be supper attractive in the winter but they are necessary for flowers come spring. The rule of thumb: Prune spring flowering shrubs immediately after they bloom and no later than the 4th of July.

All summer pruning should be complete by the end of August in the Nashville area. This allows new growth time to harden off before the first frost. Freezing temperatures may seem eons away during the August heat, but plants need that much time to adapt.

When beginning a pruning project always remove damaged, diseased, and dead limbs first. This will give you a better view of the plant's shape and health. Tip: Follow the plant's natural growth habit and you won't have to prune it nearly as often.

Plants to Prune *now*:
Spring Flowering Shrubs – These include Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Forsythia, Dogwood, Viburnum, and Weigela. Many horticulturists recommend you not prune azaleas or rhododendrons at all. They already have a lovely, natural growth habit and pruning will often distort them. Unfortunately, many of these shrubs are placed in areas that they soon outgrow (i.e. beneath low windowsills.) If you don’t want to move such plants to a roomier location then pruning is your only option.

Plants ok to prune in the summer:

Broadleaved Shrubs - Broadleaved shrubs, such as 'Nellie R. Stevens' and 'Foster' hollies, require constant care throughout the summer in order to maintain their shape and branch density. These plants should be tip pruned, removing about 2" of the growth at the end of branches. It is a good idea to wait until the branches are at least 10" in length before tipping them because they will need to be able to support all the new growth.

Shrub and Climbing Roses - Pruning these roses in the summer will help shape them for next years flower display. Do not prune Hybrid Tea roses in the summer, they should be pruned in early spring. When pruning shrub roses the idea is to improve air circulation. Remove inward growing branches and make the cut at an outward facing bud or branch. Also, remove large, old canes to make room for new growth. This should also be done for climbing roses. Cut the old canes at the base, but do not remove any young basal growth. (This would be the growth you are making room for.)

Fruit Trees - When fruit trees are grown for the purpose of production it is easier to harvest from low growing branches. Summer pruning can help head back these trees to maintain a lower height. Do NOT top a fruit tree (or any other tree for that matter) to keep it short. This will create weak branches that will break with the weight of fruit. Instead, head back the tree removing the inward growing and taller branches to the next node or branch. For more information on pruning fruit trees visit Pruning Fruit Trees The section 'Pruning Neglected Trees' has some excellent diagrams! This is an Adobe Acrobat Reader document. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader you may download a free version from Adobe

Do NOT hard prune in the summer:

Deciduous trees - During the summer deciduous trees are working on storing food for the winter by collecting the nutrients from the outer branches. Removing numerous, healthy branches will weaken the tree. Also, stem removal in late summer encourages new growth that may not have enough time to harden off before frost. Light pruning is acceptable right now, but save the big stuff for late winter. Only remove damaged, diseased, and dead branches during summer.

Most Conifers - Whorl-branch conifers, such as firs, spruce, and pines, should be cut in early spring. Most importantly, never cut into the old wood of these type conifers because no new growth will be produced from old wood. Instead, cut the new candle-like growth to encourage branching in spring. Random-branching conifers like cedar, cypress, and hemlock can be pruned similar to broadleaved evergreen trees. They will flush new growth from old wood as long as there is foliage on the branch. One exception to this is hemlock, which will develop new growth from bare branches.

For more information on pruning come see David Bates this Saturday, 10:00 a.m. at Bates Nursery. He will be talking about pruning and protecting woody plants, including how to identify and eradicate prevalent pests such as bagworms and spidermites!