Homeowners are eager to get out and do something in the landscape this time of year, especially with the early spring weather here in North Carolina. One landscape chore that should be taken care of now is pruning certain shrubs. Not all shrubs need to be pruned, such as Crape Myrtle, which we advise not to prune as most do. We call it Crape murder, when landscapers and homeowners cut back these plants every winter to produce stubs. We recommend in most cases to just allow them to grow.
Shrubs are pruned to maintain or reduce size, rejuvenate growth, or to remove diseased, dead or damaged branches. Deciduous shrubs are those that lose their leaves each winter, and some of these are ones that can be pruned now, along with certain evergreens such as Photenia. I have a group of Photenias at my home which had grown to be over 10’ tall, which they will if not pruned. So this past weekend I pruned them down to about 6’ so that I could keep it from taking over this area, and so I could treat it for Leaf Spot Disease this year, which had gotten out of hand last year.
Pruning during the late winter and early spring will allow wounds to heal quickly without threat from insects or disease. Pruning also helps to stimulate new growth this spring, and there is no need to treat pruning cuts with paints or sealers.
There are two main methods used in pruning shrubs: thinning and heading back. Thinning is used to help thin out branches from a shrub that is too dense. To do this, remove most of the inward growing twigs by either cutting them back to a larger branch or cutting them back to just above an outward- facing bud. On multi-stemmed shrubs, the oldest stems may be completely removed. Heading back is done by removing the end of a branch by cutting it back to a bud and is used for either reducing height or keeping a shrub compact, such as with my Phonenias.
Shrubs that flower in the spring, such as Azaleas, should not be pruned until after flowering in mid-Spring. Pruning now will not harm the health of the plant, but it will greatly affect the flowering display by the removal of many flower buds.