Like many folks, my offspring suffer from a fear of pruning. I don’t know where they get it, either, but it’s not from me. (Click here for more about that.) Perhaps they are afraid of making a mistake, doing it wrong, hurting the plant. I have told them, pruning is like cutting hair, and like hair, it will grow back even if you cut their bangs up to the hairline trying to get them even. I even shaved my head once. The only downside for me was that it was December and my head was so cold I had to sleep in a hat. Off track a bit there, sorry.
Back to pruning and how to overcome your fears. Most trees and shrubs need to be shaped after a few years in the ground while they are still manageable by the home gardener. Large trees also need work done, but that is best handled by a licensed professional. I like to limb up most trees in order to be able to grow things underneath. It also makes for a neater appearance. Shrubs, on the other hand, are easier to manage without the need for line and rigging, even for an aging and not very muscular person. They will be the example for today’s story, in particular Hydrangeas.
A general rule for pruning flowering shrubs is to cut right after blooming, whenever that might be. The Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Dooley’ growing in the Fairegarden had gotten quite large over the years. It had not been pruned at all since being moved to the relatively shady Ferngully area. Upon our return from a week at the beach recently, Dooley was looking quite sad.
There had been no rain and very, very high temps. The blue flowers, our soil is naturally acidic, were crispy and not attractive. The leaves were droopy even with copious amounts of water from the hose. The whole shrub splayed open revealing its innards to passersby. The sensible thing to do was to lessen the load for the plumbing system of the shrub by removing some of the branches. (The above shot is from June 26, 2011, happier times for Dooley than 2012. No need to embarrass him further.)
Looking at the base, it was easy to tell the new growth, which was green, from the older, woodier stems. With sharp loppers, the old growth was removed, and with the felcos the remaining younger branches were cut down to the first set of leaves. Doing this in June will allow the Hydrangea to grow new bits that will flower next spring.
In addition to Dooley, the oakleaf Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Alison’ was thinned and cut in the same manner. The older stems were removed and the remaining branches were shortened to the first leafing. Oakleafs can be cut just about anytime and will rebloom easily, well into winter. Alison is a big one and gets trimmed when she begins to block the walkways or overwhelm her neighbors.
Hydrangea ‘Lady In Red’ had also grown quite large and had not been pruned since her replanting in the Ferngully bed. Those first few years after being relocated were touch and go for the Hydrangeas. A post was written about them that can be read by clicking here. Lady in Red had grown too well, and was threatening to completely shade out one of my beloved deciduous Azaleas, Rhododendron ‘Cannon’s Double’. That is unacceptable. The Lady was given the same treatment as the others. Afterwards the area was drenched with the sprinkler set on a steady, low water pressure.
Here is the after shot, after a severe cutting back. The shrubs are happier and so are all of the surrounding plantings. From now on, there will be a more regular regimen of trimming. Yes, it is work, but it should not be avoided out of fear of doing it wrong. Timing is important in certain Hydrangeas and other flowering shrubs, but what’s the worst thing that can happen? You miss a year of flowers, but even then, the shrub will eventually bloom.
For other posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.