Here at Roanoke Landscapes we know how important flowering shrubs like azaleas, spirea, and rhododendrons are to a vibrant spring landscape. In order to achieve the best possible spring flower growth, occasionally pruning of shrubs is necessary. Pruning is a great (and easy) way to encourage new plant growth, maintain the size of plants, increase flowering, and limit dead and diseased growth. Spring shrubs (anything that flowers before the end of June) should be pruned promptly after flowering, since their flowers grow off dead wood from the previous season. Pruning later in the year (summer or fall) can kill future flower growth. So, here’s some quick tips for spring pruners looking to keep their landscapes fabulous for years to come.
What you’ll need: A set of sharp, clean pruning shears, some gloves, and (if you’re new to the whole pruning thing) a piece of ribbon or some paint to mark branches with so you can keep track of what needs to be cut and visualize your progress as you go.
Here are a few common spring shrubs in need of some seasonal TLC:
- Spirea: Spirea plants produce small, attractive clusters of colorful flowers. These shrubs need to be pruned immediately following the first spring bud. The shrub’s shape should be maintained via a light pruning of shoots and stems throughout the season. Stems on the lower part of the plant that flower sparsely can be trimmed back in the fall to produce new, healthy growth in the spring. A little trimming is worth keeping these bright, beautiful plants blooming healthfully.
- Quince: Quince is a drought-tolerant, deciduous shrub that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It has thorny branches, so be careful when pruning! Wear long sleeves, gloves, and thick pants. This plant should be pruned immediately after spring flowers fade. To trim, cut dead and dying branches from the bottom of the bush, working your way to the overgrowth at the top of the plant. You can remove up to one-third of the branches to encourage new growth next season!
- Forsythia: Forsythia are large shrubs that grow bright yellow flowers. They are the perfect plant to welcome in the springtime! Forsythia grows very quickly and thus must be pruned to control rapid overgrowth. Prune in the spring right after the blooms fade. DO NOT trim into a formal hedge; forsythia naturally grows in an irregular arch. In large shrubs, cut 1/3-1/4 of old branches close to the ground. Pruning should be fairly vigorous, especially for older, overgrown plants. Younger plants require only occasional pruning of askew branches. Some scarce pruning can do wonders for your forsythia bushes in the spring!
- Azalea: Azaleas make any landscape pop with their large, billowing blooms. They need little care when established, but a bit of pruning goes a long way! Prune soon after they bloom in spring or early summer. During pruning, let azaleas retain their natural, beautiful shape. Remove long, stray shoots by pruning towards the middle of the plant, allowing sunlight to reach the inner blooms. Azaleas can grow rather quickly, but even the most drastically overgrown azalea can be restored with heavy pruning. Overgrown plants can be cut down to one foot in height, watered frequently, and fertilized to produce new, gorgeous blooms the following spring.
- Rhododendron: Rhododendrons have lush, colorful blooms that can brighten every landscape. Most rhododendrons only require slight, occasional pruning. These plants should be pruned before the last frost in spring (with Virginia’s unpredictable weather, that could be anytime from March to June!) Pruners should focus on trimming old, dead flowers and dead wood first. When trimming large, strong branches, trim no more than 15-20 inches off the top. Cut branches a quarter of an inch above the last leaf cluster you want to keep. Avoid heavy pruning if possible, since it can inhibit flower growth for several years!
This is just a short guide to spring pruning. For a more detailed look at pruning all kinds of gorgeous shrubs, check out this guide from Better Homes and Gardens. And, don’t forget, Roanoke Landscapes is always here to help your landscape look its best all year round!