28 May 2019

Remember to prune

This photo of a transected hedge reminded me that one gardening skill I have never acquired is the ability/willingness to aggressively prune perennials.  A decade ago the burning bush (Euonymus spp.) next to our sidewalk was chest-high.

Because I loved the vivid autumn color, I pruned it minimally, so now it is enormous and extending over the sidewalk.

Now if I try to prune it back, I encounter the hardwood branches revealed in the top cross-section photo, which might not leaf out if pruned to that level.  And if I don't prune, visitors who brush against it learn what one commenter said when viewing the cut hedge:
"...as a kid, running into one playing football or something and thinking it would be soft. nope, stabby."
Stabby is right.  

The lesson repeats itself elsewhere.  The birch behind the burning bush was planted too near the house, then leaned out over the sidewalk seeking light and had to be sacrificed when winter snows brought in down too low.  Our crabapple has gone in 18 years from tidy to enormous and now drops fruit everywhere.  The junipers change from tidy to bulky.  Everything in the garden competes for the limited light and water.  As a gardener I should be more assertive in setting limits for them. 

Perhaps in my next life.


  1. But if you prune it to the hardwood branches, the leaves and flowers will grow back, right? (I know so little about shrubbery)

    1. That's what I don't know. I have pruned it back in recent years to the "twig" level - but can I cut it further and still have foliage emerge there?

  2. googling burning bush pruning says that you can prune them back a lot. they will grow back, but over several years.


  3. Took two years for Japanese Boxwood we severely cut back to completely leaf out again...

  4. Nature is remarkably resilient.

    It's so funny that we think we can stop nature from growing.

    A bike trail behind my home is closed for a year for some significant work at the other end of the block. Within a month, nature has overtaken the two little play grounds that are next to the trail. Mulch to stop growth? Ha! Bushes are growing out of it.

  5. I'm certainly not an expert, but from what I understand, the ability to accomplish this kind of pruning is very dependant of the species of tree (or bush). Some will grow back readily, even if cut down to the hardwood, and some will not. Until last winter when the snowfall took it down, we had a ceanothus in the front yard, which absolutely refused to grow back from any pruning, even if you just trimmed back the twigs. In contrast, the cherry trees grow new twigs and leaves from the scars where branches were cut all the way back to the trunk.

    The very dense,tightly-pruned hedge look is not one most plants will take willingly. I don't know for sure about the tree in the image, but hedges are often planted with mutated varieties that have very dense and unusual growth patterns. Sometimes, when a tree is damaged, the new growth over the wound comes in as a very dense clump called a "witches broom." Taking a cutting from the clump and propagating a new plant from it will result in an entire tree with the dense growth mutation. They do have to be watched carefully, as sometimes one branch will spontatously revert back to the original form, and can quickly overgrow the entire tree. I know this is often true of evergreen hedges, I don't know how common it is in decidious plants? From the image, it's clear this particular tree has been extensively pruned amd trained from when it was very small, so this might be entirely the result of a dedicated pruner and an agreeable species.

    After years of trying and failing to corral the ceanothus, my mom has decided that her new philosophy of gardening is to select plants whose terminal size and shape is suited to the space they're planted in. This joins her other qualifications of "plants which are native, or at least not invasive" and "plants which don't require watering, or pesticides, or fertilizer", for an overall philosophy of low-effort and wildlife-friendly gardening. Lots of songbirds and summer insects, and no pruning!

  6. I'm a ruthless pruner. Sometimes I think I've gone too far and killed the plant (trees, shrubs and vines) but they always come back.

  7. The picture shows are coming back but it takes a lot of time. If you take away all the green the tree will die. So in the picture there is growht inside because there is green outside.

  8. A lot of websites say you should cut back about a third of the twigs/branches every year, so in the 4th year your shrub will be closer to the size you want. I've been doing that with an overgrown yew hedge, and it's working pretty well so far.


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