What to Prune Now and Soon

The Gardenist

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Pruning is tricky, and it is hard to keep track of when to prune what. I am constantly referencing books myself. The best pruning times generally fall into two categories — early spring/late fall, or right after the plant blooms. Because so many shrubs and trees bloom in the spring, the time line can become particularly blurry during this busy pruning time of the year. Technically, early spring is just about over... so if you haven't done that pruning yet — do it now.

Here is a quick list of common things that should be pruned now:

Fruit Trees:

  • Apple - Prune moderately to keep it open and the branches well spaced. Encourage branching that is strong (right angles) rather than V-shaped crotches.
  • Cherry - Prune moderately - specifically focussing on the most vigorous shoots.
  • Peach - Prune to keep the tree's head low and generally aim to remove half of the previous years growth.
  • Plum - Prune moderately making sure to remove anything dead or diseased.

Other plants to prune now:

  • Trumpet Vine - Prune those side branches hard (right back tot he main stem).
  • Rose of Sharon - If you have buds on the stems - prune it now. Remove stems that are weak and anything that isn't showing signs of life.
  • Clematis - Cut out the weak growth and save as much old wood as possible.

When you have finished all that you can wait a few weeks — but don't put away your pruners, because these are plants that will need to be pruned once they flower.

  • Flowering dogwood - remove the dead wood.
  • Forsythia - remove old branches, trim new growth, and cut away anything that isn't complimenting that overall shape that you are hoping for.
  • Lilac - Remove the flower heads, anything that is diseased, and suckers that are coming up from the ground.
  • Rhododendron - Prune carefully and lightly — just clip out the weak and leggy branches to encourage new growth from the bottom.
  • Roses - If you are past your last frost date (which is generally later than you think — here in New England it is is officially somewhere around the 3rd week of May!) then you can prune out dead and weak growth in roses.

Here is what to do with climbing plants:

  • Climbing Roses - Cut out half of the old growth and keep the new shoots for next year's blooms.
  • Virginia Creeper - Thin the old vines and clip new plants freely to encourage their growth were you want it.
  • Wisteria - After it blooms, cut back new growth to spurs at axils of leaves.

I hope that helps! If you have questions about pruning other plants, post them in the comments and we can all help each other out with our garden wisdom.

(Image credits: Transition Heathrow under CC BY 2.0)