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Continued: It's prime time to prune

  • Article by: RHONDA HAYES , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 1, 2014 - 2:40 PM

Tried-and-true techniques

Thinning, the most common pruning technique, is often needed for shrubs that sucker from the base. (Suckers are those vigorous, often upright shoots.) Removing suckers is the best way to renew a shrub while maintaining its shape. Remove up to a third of the oldest stems, cutting them at the base. In addition to making the shrub look better, it will allow for better air circulation and stimulate new growth.

Shaping or heading back is more like a haircut and is best used on shrubs that have grown over walkways or obscured windows. Trim branches back to a larger branch or bud maintaining the natural shape of the shrub as you go. Taking a shrub back down to size not only looks tidier but also brings flowers back to eye (and nose) level for greater enjoyment.

Rejuvenation pruning is more drastic. It involves cutting back the entire plant to the first buds, anywhere from 4 to 10 inches from the ground. This type of pruning is best suited for summer-blooming Japanese spireas and smooth ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas.


Alternatives to pruning

If you don’t want to spend time pruning, consider buying compact plants. Smaller yards — and busy gardeners — have led breeders to develop more compact versions of traditional shrubs, which maintain their shape and rarely need pruning. Check out Hummingbird clethra, Java Red weigela, Compactum dwarf cranberry, Little Princess spirea and Snow Day Surprise pearl bush, among other petite options.


Rhonda Hayes is a Minneapolis-based garden writer. She blogs at

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