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March 2014


Could you give me a pointer on pruning our Elaeagnus bushes?


Answer Elaeagnus is a great hedge or foundation planting. If it is growing too tall, it can be height controlled by selective pruning. I personally don’t like the looks of a sheared plant, but prefer a more natural look with selective branch pruning.  If you need to take off more than 1/3, do so quickly to allow for new growth to kick in.  Elaeagnus are notorious for having a bad hair day 2-3 times a season—they send up huge sprouts periodically that need to be sheared and managed.  Other than that, they are great plants with fabulously fragrant flowers in the fall. 


October 2012

QuestionWhen should oakleaf hydrangeas by pruned, and how do I do it?


AnswerOakleaf hydrangeas and the bigleaf hydrangeas (those with the pink and blue flowers) both bloom in the summer, but set flower buds in the fall. It is too late to prune them now until next summer. The only time you can prune without damaging flower set is immediately after flowering. Oakleaf hydrangeas begin with bright white flowers, which fade to a dusty rose and then tan. If they need pruning, as soon as the white blooms begin to fade, begin pruning. They are cane producing plants, which means you should thin them at the base, removing older, woodier stalks. If you plant them where they have ample room to grow, you don’t need to prune as often.

October 2012

QuestionI have a lovely lavender bush that has been growing and looking very healthy until recently and now parts of it look like "dried lavender." I cut off the dried looking part, but the problem seems to be spreading. Do you have any guesses as to what is causing this and how to fix it before the whole plant is gone?


AnswerLavender is one of those plants that thrives in drier seasons, and struggles in damp, hot and humid ones, especially if the drainage isn't great or if you have a sprinkler system which hits it regularly. Raised beds and rocky, poor soils tend to be better than highly amended, rich sites. Cut out the damaged parts and get it through the winter. Then prune it back by 1/3 to 1/2 before new growth kicks in next spring and see what happens. It tends to do better in poor soils which are not heavily fertilized or watered.

September 2012

QuestionWe have several loropetalums and have thus far have only pruned them when animals have broken limbs. We like the wild, natural look of the bushes, but they are getting a bit out of hand. Can you please give us tips on when and how much to prune them? We do not want to risk pruning at the wrong time and hindering flower production.


AnswerLoropetalums are beginning to have some blooms on them right now, but their main bloom period is early spring. Immediately after bloom is when they should be pruned, if needed. Some varieties can get quite large. Many of the early varieties that were supposed to get no larger than 4-5 feet, are small trees now, so prune heavily if they are overgrown. You can also move them to an area where they can grow large, and opt for new varieties that are smaller at maturity.

August 2012

QuestionI have had a Black Knight Buddleia for a little over a year. It has become "leggy" - leaves dropping - and fewer blooms. It gets sufficient water. I know it blooms on new growth, but how much of the shrub should be pruned?


AnswerBuddleia or butterfly bush does bloom on the new growth, and should be pruned annually in late February, before new growth kicks in. This year, we had such an early spring and non-existent winter, that many of the butterfly bushes never went dormant, and never stopped blooming. Many people thought they missed their pruning opportunity and either didn’t prune, or didn’t prune enough. That has resulted in leggy plants and fewer blooms. The same thing has happened on some roses as well. For now, deadhead and lightly prune, give it a light application of fertilizer and it can continue to flower through late fall. Even if we don’t have a winter, prune it back by at least half if not more, next February. The plant should then fill out and give you greater flowering.

August 2012

QuestionI have two Compacta holly bushes on each side of the steps leading up to our front door. They have been there for 14 years, so they are well established as are the shrubs around them. They are almost square at about 3'x3'x3' Over the last 2-3 years they have become sparse of leaves at the bottom and sides. Is there anything I can do to restore them? I know it will be difficult to replace them.


AnswerWhen evergreens are pruned into hedges, whether they are tall or short, the top of the plant should have a slightly narrower profile than the bottom. If the top is the same size or larger, it shades out the base of the plants and they begin to lose leaves. In late February to mid March next spring, cut them back hard—possibly to 1 ½ - 2 feet and lightly fertilize. They should get the burst of new growth and fill back in, hopefully having foliage throughout the plant. Instead of pruning them into future squares, let them have a more natural shape, but keep the tops narrower.

August 2012

QuestionWe have a very unruly forsythia bush that is about 30 years old and anchors the planting at the end of our front porch. Is it okay to prune it now or in the fall when it drops its leaves? It really needs a good shaping but we want to have flowers next spring also.


AnswerFlower buds are set on your forsythia for next spring. If you prune now, you will lose flowers. The best time to prune is immediately after bloom next spring. Take out 1/3 – ½ of the older, woodier canes right at the soil line. This should rejuvenate the plant and reduce the size.

August 2012

QuestionI have a lilac bush that does not get full sun, but it does bloom occasionally. It is getting fairly large. When should I prune it?


AnswerLilac plants set their flower buds in late summer to early fall and bloom in the spring. They should only be pruned as needed, immediately after bloom in the spring. It is way too late to prune them this year. Many of our plants had an expedited spring and have already set their flower buds for next year. Pruning now would definitely impact the bloom ability of this plant. For now, just keep it watered and do any needed pruning next year as soon as the flowers fade.

July 2012

QuestionI have a ten year old hydrangea that I have never pruned. It used to bloom beautifully at the top, but this year, most of the blooms were at the bottom. When should I prune and how? Do I need to cut off the old flowers as they fade?


AnswerIf you are planning on pruning your hydrangea, you need to do it soon. Hydrangeas bloom in the summer, but turn around and set flower buds for next year in the late summer or early fall. Remove up to one third of the older canes at the soil line—this should reduce the size, but still leave plenty of growth for blooms for next year. As to removing the spent flowers, that is a personal preference. Some gardeners like the look of the dried flowers, while others think it looks bad. Do continue to water, since hydrangeas are not drought tolerant plants.

June 2012

QuestionI live in Bella Vista, Arkansas and I have a question about my hydrangeas. They were absolutely huge and loaded with blue flowers this year — I use coffee grounds on all my acid loving plants and they thrive. This year I had about 60-75 flowers and we got a big rain. All the flower heads were bowed over. Now I have a lot of bent branches. I know they set their flower buds on last year’s growth, so if I prune all the bent branches, I probably won’t have any flowers next year. I would have to cut about two feet off of each branch to get to straight limbs. Any suggestions on what to do?


AnswerActually, the time to prune hydrangeas is immediately after they bloom. Instead of just cutting two feet off, try thinning the plants out and remove up to 1/3 of the limbs at the soil line. Cutting hydrangeas at the tops of the stems will encourage branching. Each branch on the stalk can produce the large flower heads which can make them top-heavy and not able to support the blooms. Pruning now will allow the plant to recover and you should still have flower buds set this fall for a bloom for next summer. Hard, cold winters often take a toll in the NW part of our state, but our lack of winter this year has given us quite the hydrangea show this year.

June 2012

QuestionAbout a month ago my rose ground cover bushes (which are about 3 feet tall) had a beautiful bloom. The bushes were covered with miniature roses. When they all bloomed, I deadheaded the bushes and now nothing---I can't see any new roses even coming out. I don't know the name of the rose bushes but the flowers are an apricot color that fades to light pink. Do you think this is the type of rose that only blooms once in the spring? If so, is it safe to cut them shorter at this time?


AnswerMost miniatures and the flower carpet groundcover types are re-blooming roses. That being said, if you didn’t get around to pruning them as needed this past February and they are large, you can go ahead and prune them back even more now. This will get them in the shape needed and while it will delay new blooms, they will eventually rebound and begin to bloom. Because of the early start of our spring, many people failed to prune roses, butterfly bushes, and other summer flowering plants. If you have blooming plants, and don’t want to lose flowers, I am suggesting cutting every other stem as they finish flowering to get them pruned, and then when those cut stems rebound, cut the other half. If not pruned at all this season, these plants will be large, unattractive plants by late summer.

May 2012

QuestionI am removing nandina around the foundation of my house. They are probably at least 20 years old and have spread all along the bed behind the azaleas. I have to use a pick ax to uproot thick clumps of roots. Then I hand pick out the long running roots extending out every direction. My question is will I need to sift through to get all the little bits and pieces that this destruction is creating? There are fat white runners and brown woody runners. I'd like to not have to do this again in another 5 years.


AnswerNandinas are tenacious plants and it is possible they will sprout from the roots that are left behind. The key is to monitor the garden and if you see sprouts weed eat them down or cut them off. Eventually you will wear them out. I don’t think you will get 20 years worth of regrowth from sprouts versus established plants. I like nandinas, but I know many gardeners do not.

April 2012

QuestionWe have a hedge of loropetalum plants across the front of our house. Every spring, after bloom, we trim them back; however, we need to trim again late July, early August which allows for only a few blooms. How severe should these plants be cut back and when?


AnswerI think the problem you are having is that when you prune after bloom, you prune to the exact size or height you are looking for, which allows no room for new growth—thus the need to reprune in late summer. For all spring blooming plants, I say no pruning after June 15. These spring bloomers set their flower buds in late summer/early fall. Pruning in late July and August doesn't allow enough recovery time for new growth, and thus, less flowers. Cut them back after bloom more severely than you think, allowing room for the new seasons growth. Then don’t prune again until next spring, after bloom.

February 2012

QuestionCan I prune back my loropetalum now? They have really gotten large.


AnswerMy loropetalum are blooming, and have been off and on since December. Normally, they are an early spring bloomer and should be pruned after they finish flowering. If you think yours have finished blooming, or you don’t mind losing blooms, you can prune them, but I would hold off a month or two.

March 2012

QuestionI have some hydrangea bushes that are 5-6 years old that have never bloomed!! Unknowingly I cut them down the first year thinking that was what you did with the “sticks” that were left but after I was told NOT to do that I haven’t done it since. They set buds on the old stems like they are supposed to but even with fertilizing, they never set one bloom! Is there ever a time when you DO cut back the old stems or do you just leave them to continue to grow and grow from year to year? And what suggestions do you have which might help them to bloom?


AnswerMany people make the same mistake, since hydrangeas do look like dead sticks all winter. Thus far, they have made it through the winter this year unscathed! The top buds on those “dead sticks” are the largest flowers in the summer, so if Mother Nature freezes them back, and all your new growth begins at the base, we won’t have blooms, which was very common last year. Remember, they do need some sunlight to set flowers—so if yours are in total shade, that could be limiting flowering too. Have a reason to prune—too large, etc. If your plant does need to be pruned to maintain size, do so as the flowers start to fade in mid-summer. Just like the above forsythia, hydrangeas are cane producing plants, so remove older, larger canes at the soil line to encourage new canes and reduce size.

March 2012

QuestionAbout 5 years ago I planted a hedge of wax myrtles around my house, spaced about two feet apart. My problem is that I have not kept them trimmed and they have grown quite tall and haven’t filled out well, you can see through them. If I trim them back to about 6 feet tall and keep it there, will they start thickening?


AnswerPruning your wax myrtles should help them fill out. If left to grow un-pruned, they will continue to grow taller. The top buds on the branches have dominance, so growth continues upright unless the top buds are pruned out. Once the top buds have been clipped, energy can be directed into lateral buds which will help them get fuller. Try to get the pruning done fairly soon so you can catch the burst of new spring growth and they can fill out more quickly.

February 2012

QuestionMy Beautyberry bushes need to be cut back. How and when should this be done?


AnswerBeautyberry or French Mulberry (Callicarpa species) bloom on the new growth, so they can be cut back as much or as little as you like before new growth kicks into high gear. Pruning should not impact flowering—and thus berry set, if you get it done early enough. I would suggest pruning in late February to early March.      

November 2010

QuestionWe have a "bridal wreath" (sorry I do not know the official name for it) which we pruned after it bloomed this past spring. Since then it has grown "dramatically" and has some tall shoots on top. It is quite large and located in our front yard near the street. Can I prune it NOW for appearance and not affect its blooms next year? We "inherited" the plant when we bought the lot on which we built our new house and I have no experience with bridal wreaths.


AnswerBridal wreath is the common name for the white blooming spring spirea. Pruning now WOULD affect the flowers for next spring. Flower buds are set for all spring blooming plants now. The time to officially prune is in the spring after bloom. Don’t just prune it to the size you want it to be, because any new growth would then make it larger. Prune it by at least 1/3 more to allow room for new growth. If you have a few wild shoots, taking them off now would not impact your spring display all that much.

September 2010

QuestionI was wondering when is the best time to trim an arborvitae shrub? I have one that is pretty tall and wide and I did not know the best way to trim it to keep from hurting it.  Fall is not a great time to prune shrubs in the landscape for several reasons. One, you may have a pruned look all winter long if new growth doesn't appear, and if new growth does come on late, it may not be as hardy. I would opt for late February through mid April as the prime time to prune arborvitae. Try not to remove more than one third of the plant when pruning. Also, in the case of needle type evergreens such as arborvitae and junipers, don't prune any branch too severely as they don't sprout out as readily from old wood. If you can, make sure green foliage is still on the branch after pruning.


AnswerFall is not a great time to prune shrubs in the landscape for several reasons. One, you may have a pruned look all winter long if new growth doesn't appear, and if new growth does come on late, it may not be as hardy. I would opt for late February through mid April as the prime time to prune arborvitae. Try not to remove more than one third of the plant when pruning. Also, in the case of needle type evergreens such as arborvitae and junipers, don't prune any branch too severely as they don't sprout out as readily from old wood. If you can, make sure green foliage is still on the branch after pruning.

August 2010

QuestionI am having a terrible time this summer with my golden euonymus. I have quite a few of them and don't want to lose them. Something seems to be sucking them dry. I have sprayed them twice with Malathion and it hasn't seemed to help. I have sprayed them with deer repellent too as we have quite a few deer eating them. I am at my wits end as to what to do. Can you please give me some advice?


AnswerMy guess is you have euonymus scale. These tiny insects feed on the lower and upper leaf surface as well as the stems. It will look like someone poured salt and pepper on the plant. They suck the sap out of the plant and can weaken it considerably. But you should be able to see them. Malathion would give you limited control. A better option would be imidacloprid, commonly sold as Merit, Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insecticide or Ferti-lome® Azalea/Evergreen Food Plus with Systemic. Prune off any heavily infested parts and then treat with the systemic insecticide. You can also wait for fall and spray the plant with a dormant oil, but the oil products must be thoroughly applied to be effective.

April 2010

QuestionI hope you can help me with this problem. I have several very old azaleas. They are over 50 years old and probably eight feet tall. I know they should have been trimmed long ago, but they have been so beautiful. Now, however, there are a lot of dead looking limbs underneath the leaves. The green leaves form a canopy over the dead limbs. My questions are should I trim them and if so, how far back? When should I trim and should I fertilize? They still bloom well and should bloom sometime in April.


AnswerThere is absolutely nothing wrong with old azaleas being eight feet tall--if there is room for them to grow that large and it isn't covering up a window. If you have ever been to Callaway Gardens in Georgia, they are much larger than that and absolutely spectacular in bloom, so don't beat yourself up about not having pruned them. If the plants are having issues now, then pruning this year may be called for. Allow the plants to finish blooming before you start pruning. Then do selective thinning of branches, removing any dead wood and then deciding on where new growth needs to go. Pruning can help get the bushes full again and can direct growth in areas that you need it. Try not to remove more than one third of the plant, but follow up with azalea fertilizer and water as needed to aid in recovery.

April 2010

QuestionIs it too late to prune Sasanqua? Mine bloomed until a few weeks ago. They are about 7' - 8' feet tall, and bare around the lower 2 to 3 feet. They are about 20 years old.


AnswerIt is definitely not too late to prune camellias. Most sasanqua camellias have finished blooming but the Japonica camellias are still blooming in many gardens. I have pruned a few limbs on mine and will finish up when I prune the azaleas. Camellias set flower buds in late summer, so you have ample time to prune and allow recovery time. Try to get it done by early May if possible.

March 2010

QuestionMy boxwoods have greened up and look great EXCEPT I forgot to trim them back in February. Will I mess up if I trim back now our do I just wait till next year?


AnswerEvergreens that are grown for foliage and do not bloom can lightly be shaped at almost any season. Heavy pruning—more than one third should be done as early in the spring or late winter as possible to catch that burst of new growth that can help the plants quickly recover. Boxwoods are a bit tricky, in that they have such dense outer foliage that there is basically no growth on the interior of the plant. Pruning back leaves the plant looking pretty barren. As long as you can prune by early April, I think you can still expect the plant to fill back in fairly quickly--much later than that and you have a pretty homely plant for a season.

March 2010

QuestionCan (or should) Rose of Sharon bushes, gardenia bushes and/or mock orange bushes be pruned and if so, when is the best time to do it?


AnswerWhen pruning any plant there are three questions you need to ask before grabbing the pruning shears: why, when and how? Why do they need to be pruned—have they overgrown their space, do you need a specific shape or size, or has there been any damage to them. Once it has been determined that you need to prune, then know when is the best time. If they are spring bloomers, like mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius), then all pruning should be done AFTER they bloom. Spring blooming plants set flower buds at the end of the growing season. Pruning as soon after flowering will give them ample time to recover before they need to set more flower buds. If your plant blooms in the summer, like the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) they bloom on the new growth and should be pruned before growth begins—in late February until mid March. Pruning later simply delays the first set of flowers. As with all things there are exceptions to these rules—Gardenia or cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides) and big leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) and oak leaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) bloom in the summer but set flower buds in the fall. Some newer cultivars of gardenia and hydrangea ‘Frost Proof’ gardenia and ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea actually set flower buds in the fall but also set some flowers on the current season growth. Choosing a plant that fits the location will limit how much it needs to be pruned. If pruning of gardenias or hydrangeas are needed, do so immediately after the first big flush of flowers in the summer.

April 2010

QuestionSpring has sprung and time, I think, to do some bush trimming. We have 4 large boxwood shrubs in front of our office. Is it ok to trim them back at this time? Thanks for the help!


AnswerIf they need trimming do so as soon as possible. Boxwood shrubs (Buxus sempervirens) tend to have very dense outer foliage, leaving a fairly bare interior to the plant. If you wait too late to prune, the recovery time is slow and you end up looking at a pretty ugly plant for a period of time. After you prune, give them a light application of fertilizer to aid in their re-growth. Just because it is spring, doesn't mean every plant needs pruning. Be sure you know why, when and how to prune the shrubs in your landscape.

April 2008

QuestionIs it o.k. to trim gardenias now? When is the best time?


AnswerNow is not a good time to prune gardenias. Most gardenias bloom from flower buds set last fall. Pruning now would remove those buds. Wait until after the plants finish flowering with their first flush of blooms, and then prune as needed. There are several new varieties that also set some flowers on the current season growth—re-blooming again in late summer. Try to prune as little as possible to prevent losing out on any blooms, but prune as soon as the first flowering season ends. If you choose a plant that fits the location, you may never have to prune.

May 2009

QuestionI have a large camellia bush (7ft) that I would like to move. Is this possible without damaging it? If so how far can I cut it back? It has totally blocked the front window in our den.


AnswerThe best time to have moved the camellia would have been in February or March, when it was dormant. The plant is in its active growing period now and will be stressed if you transplant. It can be done, but you will really need to keep up with watering all summer long. Don’t be surprised if it wilts badly for several weeks after transplanting. Camellias can stand heavy pruning periodically and still recover, but do so as soon as possible. They finished blooming over a month ago and you need to allow them time to recover before they set flower buds this fall. Our recommendation is not to prune off more than one third. One other possibility is to limb the plant up, making it more of an ornamental tree.

April 2009

QuestionMy loropetalum have gotten too large despite trimming each quarter. I did not plant the smaller version and they are too large as foundations plants. Is there a way to trim them that retains their natural flowing look? When I trim them they look like balls!


AnswerActually, I had the same problem with one in my front landscape. Even with severe pruning many Loropetalum chinense, or Chinese witch-hazel plants continued to outgrow their location, and pruning will be an annual chore. While there are methods to prune more naturally, the larger loropetalums will constantly require more and more pruning, if they are needed at a diminutive height. Constant pruning will impact the number of flowers you have. You have a few options. I tree-formed mine, limbing up all the lower branches to expose the main trunk. This allows me to see out my window and gives me a beautiful flowering small tree, which needs little pruning, except to remove interior suckers each year. I was surprised at how beautiful the bark is. Another option would be to move these larger varieties to a location where they can grow at will, and plant some of the true dwarf loropetalum varieties like ‘Purple Pixie’.

February 2008

QuestionWe have five weigelia bushes that have grown quite big in just a couple of years. Since they tend to flower heavily in the spring, and then just a few blooms throughout the rest of the summer, I'm not sure whether to prune them right after the heavy flowering, or wait until fall... or even January or February. What is the best time and method?


AnswerThe best time to prune a weigelia is immediately following flowering in the spring. Weigelias are cane-producing plants, with multiple branches coming from the soil line. To reduce size but keep the nice graceful weeping form, prune out some of the older canes at the soil line. You can take out up to one third of the canes if needed.

June 2008

QuestionWhat is the best time to prune holly bushes? (Prune fairly hard, not just a haircut.)


AnswerHollies can be lightly shaped in any season, but for severe pruning –more than one third, I would suggest pruning in late February through mid April to take advantage of the burst of spring growth so they can fill in more evenly and faster.

June 2008

QuestionWe have a camellia that is about seven feet tall, 20-25 years old. It is watered by our sprinkler system and given shrub food with some regularity. It does not get a lot of sun, but neither do the ginkgo, forsythia, etc. around it and, at least this year, the hydrangea next to it is blooming nicely. The camellia's leaves have for the most part turned brown and almost leathery. Is it just old, or would cutting it back help---if so, how much and what time of year? Thanks!


AnswerYou are really a bit late in the season to be pruning a camellia. There really is not an age limit to the plant but do check around the base of it to make sure you haven’t been gradually burying it too deep by adding mulch each year and never removing any of the old. You may also want to have the soil tested to see if the pH is acidic enough. What color are your hydrangeas? If they are a deep blue, you should be ok, but if they are purple or pink, that could be a factor. If the plant still has not rebounded by next season, you can prune it back by up to one third, but do so in April or early May—as soon after it finishes blooming.

April 2009

QuestionMy lilacs were really beautiful this year and I want to encourage them to be even more beautiful next year. Are lilacs supposed to be pruned and if so, how and when should it be done? I would appreciate your assistance very much.


AnswerLilacs should be prettier than normal this year, because we had a cooler than normal summer last year. Lilacs thrive in cool seasons, and can struggle when we have a hot, humid summer. They set their flower buds at the end of summer into early fall, so weather conditions then can play a part in how well they do the following spring. While you can’t control the weather, you can keep them happy with regular water when dry, and a slow release fertilizer now. They also like a more alkaline environment, so add a little lime around the plants every few years. If the plants fit their location, pruning is not needed.

April 2005

QuestionWe recently moved into a home where all the shrubs and landscaping had been allowed to grow without pruning. I have azaleas growing over the top of the house and would like to know how far back you can prune them without hurting them. They need to be cut at least 2 feet. Also is it possible to move a 10 year old dogwood and if so when and how would you do it? I would appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks


AnswerBroadleaf plants, such as azaleas can be pruned by one third or more and still come back. I would prune as soon after flowering as possible. When pruning, don’t simply shear them back two feet all the way around—instead, make selective pruning cuts to certain branches. This will allow the plants to fill back in with a more natural shape than having all the growth at one level. Fertilize with an azalea fertilizer after pruning. For the dogwood, it can be moved, but now is not the best time. If you can hold off until fall, that would be ideal. Get as much of a root ball as you can manage. If the tree is too large for you to move, you can hire someone with a tree spade. These make quick work on a larger tree. I still would prefer you do the transplanting during the dormant season—November through early March.

July 2010

QuestionIs it too late to drastically prune azaleas without interfering with their blooming next spring? Same question about loropetalums.


AnswerI prefer to get the pruning done as soon after flowering in the spring as possible on both plants so they can recover and set plenty of flower buds in late August-September. June was so miserably hot that it did not encourage a lot of new growth. Usually July is not a great month for new growth due to heat, humidity and lack of rainfall. It all depends on the summer. Severe pruning is definitely out of the question, but even light pruning is discouraged past mid June, especially if it is really hot. If you can, wait until next spring. If you have to prune do as little as possible and do so ASAP and keep up with water needs.

June 2010

QuestionI have a few questions concerning hydrangeas. I love cutting them and bringing them inside. Sometimes they begin to wilt within several hours. I've been told to put them in a little bit of water or to use warm water. The point where I have cut them for blooms now has a woody stalk. There is a woody stalk from the ground up a few feet then it branches out green stems with blooms. Do I need to prune that stalk to the ground? They are along the north side of my house and have never been fertilized.


AnswerHydrangeas make beautiful cut flowers. Try to cut them early in the day before it heats up. When you finally bring them indoors, you can make a fresh cut at an angle under water and this should keep the stem fresh and open. Change the water in the vase every two to three days. Tepid, room temperature water is best. If your hydrangeas need pruning, the best time to do it is as soon after flowering as possible. Remove up to one third of the older, woodier stems right at the soil line. This should encourage new growth. Hydrangeas set their flower buds in the late summer/early fall for next year’s flowering. Fertilize then as well. Hydrangeas bloom best when they get full morning sun and afternoon shade. They do not like direct afternoon sun.

April 2010

QuestionCould you please help me determine why my forsythia bushes which are very large, will only bloom a couple or three blooms each year, while my neighbors are solid yellow with blooms. The bushes are several years old and every year I think next year will be better, but it isn't.


AnswerIf they get plenty of sunlight then the problem is probably that they are older bushes that you are not pruning. Forsythia sets flower buds in late summer on the growth it puts on during that years growing season. If the bush is old, it doesn't do a lot of new growing since a plant can only support a finite amount of growth. To encourage new growth you need to prune out one third to one half of the older canes every year following flowering. When pruning forsythia, we don't want to shape them into balls or boxes, since we want a living fountain for a plant. To achieve new growth and retain the structure, thin out older woody canes at the soil line. This will rejuvenate the plant, sending up fast growing new canes which should be loaded with blooms next spring--again, as long as they get 6-8 hours of sunlight a day.

March 2010

QuestionI have 7 large potted camellias of various varieties on my deck. During the cold weather the temperatures in Hot Springs Village reached 8 degrees F. Unfortunately, we were out of town and I was not here to cover these plants. Three of my potted camellias are now looking very stressed with leaves sagging badly. Is there anything that I can do to help these plants survive? Should I remove buds, fertilize early or any other measures?


AnswerLet’s just hope that we are done with freezing temperatures now! You can start to cut them back if you want, or wait a few more weeks for the weather to warm up a bit. Then start pruning back to green wood. Some camellias in the ground had a little winter damage, so in elevated containers it made them more susceptible to cold. I only hope that the roots didn’t freeze which could lead to the death of the plants. Wait and see what happens when they begin to grow. Then fertilize lightly with an azalea fertilizer and pamper them this growing season.

February 2009

QuestionLast summer I sprayed water on a foster holly in full sun. About a third of the leaves turned brown and fell off. It is now about 3 feet tall. About two thirds of the holly has healthy green foliage. The other third of the holly has bare branches. Should I just leave it alone and let it grow, or should I prune the bare branches? Will it ever develop a pretty shape or should I consider replacing it?


AnswerWater alone did not cause the plant to drop leaves. Was there some chemical in the water, or fertilizer? If water alone could do that, every time it rains we would have problems. I would wait until right before new growth begins--later this month or early next month, and prune out the dead wood. You can selectively prune some of the nearby living branches at a bud that could direct new growth where you need it.

November 2008

QuestionI do not have a green thumb! In 2001 my husband and I received a beautiful hydrangea plant when his mom died. I set it out on the north side of the house and prayed because I did so want it to live. We had a beautiful plant with large pink blooms until this year when the plant really took a beating with a late spring cold snap. A friend who seems to be an authority on plants (her yard is a showplace) told me to trim it back, give it adequate water and it would “come back in 09~~you just can’t kill a hydrangea”. Is there any hope in her statement? The plant is so special to us. We want it to remain a living memorial.


AnswerHopefully the plant is not a lost cause. How does it look now? By now, it should have recovered from the spring freeze. I am assuming your friend gave you her advice about pruning and watering, immediately after the freeze damage. Your plant may not have bloomed this season, but it should have fully leafed back out. If it has foliage, you really don't want to prune it any more this season, or you won't have flowers next summer. The big leafed pink and blue flowering hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) bloom in the summer from flower buds they set in late summer to fall. Hopefully you have large flower buds set now, so don't prune. At any rate, mulch the plant and wait for next spring to see if life begins again. Late freezes often freeze hydrangeas back in the northern tier of the state, which really impacts their bloomability, but the plants grow in leaps and bounds.      

November 2008

QuestionBetween our house and the patio edge there is about a 20" wide ground space. There is a gardenia planted between the house and patio. It needs to be moved and/or cut back. When should it be moved? When should it be cut back?


AnswerFirst, decide which you prefer, cutting it back and leaving it where it is, or moving it to a new location where it can grow at its will. A large gardenia is a pleasant thing to have when they are in bloom. If you decide to leave it where it is, pruning should be done immediately following bloom in the summer. If you want to move it, wait for the bulk of winter to be finished, and then move it in late February or March. Gardenias need either morning sun or filtered sunlight with an acid environment and even moisture, but a well drained site.

November 2008

QuestionWe have beautiful "Wine and Roses" weigela shrubs, about 3 yrs. old, and their showy blossoms were absolutely gorgeous this spring. My husband did a little conservative trimming, and they bloomed again a little bit in late summer. They are getting tall, and I think I want to keep them at a manageable height. When is the best time to prune back the branches and how should we do it? Is it too late now? I have the same issue with several butterfly bushes. Is it too late to prune back now, and how is the best way to trim/prune?


AnswerFor pruning questions, keep in mind what season the plants bloom--or at least supposed to bloom. We often get errant flowers on a few spring blooming plants in the fall, but their main flush of flowers is in the spring. Spring blooming plants set flower buds in the late summer to fall period. Pruning should be done as soon after flowering in the spring as possible. This allows them ample time to recover and set plenty of flowers for the next year. For the weigela, it is a cane producing plant that makes a living fountain in the landscape. To keep it free flowing, prune immediately after bloom in the spring by removing up to one third of the older canes at the base. Pruning it now would remove next spring’s blooms. On the butterfly bush, it blooms on the new season growth during the growing season. It should be pruned hard before new growth begins in late February to early March. Depending on what size plant you want, you can take it back by one half or almost to the ground each season.

September 2007

QuestionWe were trimming crepe myrtles-the correct way-and I left to go inside. When arriving back on the scene, my help had decided to trim seven of my beautiful 25 year old sasanqua camellias like the crepe myrtles. They are supposed to look like large azaleas, all clustered together. Now they are 6 foot trees. Will they come out if I cut them off to about 3 or 4 feet? Any suggestions?


AnswerWow! The plants will eventually grow back if pruned hard, but wait to do so until next spring. Enjoy whatever flowers they left after the incorrect pruning job--camellias have their flower buds set now. Then in March or April, prune as needed. Follow up with azalea fertilizer and keep them watered, and they should fill back in. It may take a season or two. Pruning them hard now would make recovery even slower, and expose them to possible winter damage. I think I would find new help!

September 2007

QuestionI planted eight abelias three years ago and they are now five feet tall and very full of branches. The bumble bees and hummingbirds just love them. They have flowers and leaves at the tops but lots of dry, dead sticks below---there are definitely more sticks than leaves. I know that to prune them you thin out the canes, but when can I prune? They just do not look healthy with all the dead wood.


AnswerAbelia’s are tough plants that bloom from May through frost. They are a great plant for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. They are also quite drought tolerant once established. Because they bloom on the current season growth, the correct time to prune them is late February. You can be quite severe if needed, and cut the whole plant way back, or remove one third to one half of the old canes. There are also dwarf varieties that don’t require as much care.

August 2006

QuestionDue to illness, last year I did not get my hydrangeas pruned. This spring, I cut one down to the ground and tried to leave last year's old wood on the other one. Both have grown nicely but neither has bloomed. How should I handle the pruning this year in this situation. (they are the old, big, blue "macrophylla" hydrangeas.). Thanks.


AnswerAs previously mentioned, this was not a kind year for many blooming plants. Hydrangeas like moisture, and the dry winter coupled with the warm spell in January caused many flower buds to abort. There is still time to prune hydrangeas, but as late as it is getting, don’t be as severe in your pruning. Flower buds are setting now and heavy pruning will impact your flowers next spring. I like to get pruning done as soon as the hydrangea flowers fade, but try to have everything done by early to mid August. If your plants really need pruning, thin out some older canes at the soil line, but do so as soon as possible. Be sure to keep them watered, and hopefully next summer will give us better hydrangea blooms.

August 2006

QuestionI have recently purchased my first home which is adorned with two tall camellias and five smaller ones. The two larger ones appear to have been planted with the home (tall tree, trunk with foliage at the top). I have 2 questions for you: I have trouble with aphids, I am told. The underneath of the leaf is covered with small little things; the leaves never get spotted but do turn brown and drop. I have treated with chemicals purchased and home remedies but can not get them under control. Secondly, how do you prune, or do you? I would like to cut the larger trees back and I am afraid they won't leaf out.


AnswerI do not think you have aphids. I think you have tea scale. Scale insects often congregate on the backs of the leaves and the stems. You never see them move, because once they attach they form an outer coating which protects the mother insect. She lays eggs and the tiny insects that hatch crawl out, but are not visible with the naked eye. You need to use a systemic insecticide to control them. Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub insecticide or Di-syston used in March or April will work well. This fall when it cools off you could use dormant oil—but you must get thorough coverage. Do not prune any more this season. The flower buds should be set now for next winters or springs display. The time to prune camellias is as soon after flowering if they are spring bloomers or in late spring if they are fall and winter bloomers. Pruning them in the spring will allow ample time for recovery of foliage before they begin to set flower buds in late summer. Never prune a camellia past June.

September 2006

QuestionI am a new resident of NW Arkansas, moving here from Virginia. There are two large Oak Leaf Hydrangeas growing near my porch that have grown so large they block the view from my porch. I would like to know when to prune them back. Should I remove all the old canes and leave the new ones, or can I cut them all back. How far can I cut them back without killing them?


AnswerOak leaf hydrangeas bloom in early to mid summer from flower buds they set in the fall. By now, they have set or are setting flower buds. They can be pruned without killing the plants now, but you would lose next years blooms, or at least greatly impact them. To get the most of the flowers for next season and this years fall foliage, I would suggest waiting until next summer before pruning. Prune as soon as the flowers begin to fade from white to pink. If you have some limbs that are really interfering with the porch, sacrifice them now. Enjoy the intense red fall color this fall, next springs white flowers, then prune as needed. It might be necessary to consider moving the plants to a location where they can reach their maximum size.

September 2006

QuestionI would like to know the best time of year to trim and shape my spiral topiaries and what is the best kind of tool to do the job. I have been using a cordless hand-held trimmer from Black and Decker, but I'm not sure that trimming in late spring was a good thing, as one of my shrubs was attacked by spider mites. I then applied too much miticide, and will have to wait till spring to see if it survives or will have to be replaced. I have promised the topiary that if it survives, I will never again treat it so badly and will, instead, seek the advice of Janet Carson.


AnswerIf your spiral topiary is a juniper, which many are, then light shaping can be done throughout the season. To prevent rapid new growth, you may want to wait until early June if you just need a little maintenance. Spring pruning sometimes encourages rapid new growth. You do need to be careful not to prune too severely, as junipers only have growth buds on green needles. Don't cut a section back to old wood, or it won't sprout out. I don't think your pruning job had much to do with the spider mites--they like it hot and dry, which our summer had in abundance. With junipers, you do need to use caution with chemicals--always read and follow the label directions. As to the best tool, I think you would have better control using non-electric tools; again it is better to err on the side of taking off less, than too much.

October 2006

QuestionWe have a rather large Oleander that was absolutely beautiful this summer but it has gotten tall enough that the branches are falling over. Is it safe to prune and if so, how much. Does it need to be fertilized? Also, I need to prune my gardenia bushes but they are still producing a few flowers. When will it be safe to cut them back?


AnswerOleander is only moderately winter hardy in central Arkansas, a bit more so in south Arkansas and very limited, if at all in north Arkansas. I would not prune it as it heads into winter, or you would expose it to potential winter damage. Get it through the winter and then prune as needed before growth begins in the spring. It will bloom on the new growth so pruning should not interfere with flowering if you do it early. Fertilize monthly during the growing season to keep it blooming. Do not prune the gardenia now. Not only would winter be an issue with it as well, the flowers you are seeing now are bonus blooms. Some varieties set some late blooms on the new growth, but the majority of flowers are set in the fall but bloom in late June to July. Any pruning that is needed should be done after the summer flush of flowers.

November 2006

QuestionWhen is the best time to trim azalea bushes and monkey grass?


AnswerDon't prune your azaleas any more now, wait until after they bloom. The flower buds are set for next spring’s display, so any pruning now will cut off flowers. Prune as needed immediately following bloom up until mid June. Then let them grow and prepare to set more flower buds for the next season. For monkey grass or Liriope prune in late February before the new growth begins. Cut off the spent foliage to clean things up for the new growing season.

October 2006

QuestionI live in Fairfield Bay, Ark and in the middle of trees. My three gardenias are located at the front SW corner of my house, and mostly in the shade due to my trees and the tall trees on the west side lot next to me which are about 10' away. They do get a little sunlight in the early part of the day. They are about 3' high. Can I cut them back to about 1 - 2' to stimulate new growth, and when, or can I cut half of the plant back now and the rest later? What kind and when to fertilizer, and mulch? What kind of pesticide(s) are to be used? When does the gardenia bloom and how often, once, twice, thrice?


AnswerThere are different varieties of gardenias and size can vary by variety. If you choose a plant that fits your location, you may never have to prune. If you do need to prune, the goal is to prune as soon as the first flush of flowers have faded in late June or July (depending on our season). There are some varieties of gardenias which have more blooms in the fall, but they are usually not as showy as the first summer blooms. If you need to prune, you may not get the late season flowers. Prune only as much as needed, even then. Pruning now is not advisable. It would remove the flower buds for next summer’s blooms, plus it would expose the plant to potential winter damage. You are pushing it as it is, growing them as far north as Fairfield Bay. Fertilize with an Azalea type fertilizer as new growth begins in the spring. Watch for white flies, which gardenias tend to be a magnet for. If this becomes a common occurrence each summer, use a preventative application of Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub insecticide in late March to April. Mulch should be on all plants all the time. Organic mulches include hardwood mulch, pine bark or pine needles.

July 2006

QuestionI have two miniature gardenias and I was wondering if you could please tell me when and where I should prune them. Their limbs are starting to spread all over the ground and I have never trimmed them. They are beautiful with all the white blooms but really need help. I think they would look much better if trimmed up.


AnswerIf there is room for them to grow, and they are full plants, there is no need to prune, however, if they have overgrown their location, you can prune, but do so soon. Gardenias bloom in the summer and turn around and set flower buds in the fall. By now, many of the dwarf gardenias have finished their blooming season. If yours are still blooming, prune as soon as the flowering season ends. If needed, thin out some branches and cut back to a manageable size. Lightly fertilize after pruning and the plants should recover quickly.

May 2006

QuestionSeveral years ago we installed an 8 foot privacy fence across our back yard since a church parking lot backs up to our property. The church building itself rises up behind the parking lot and church goers can look down into our backyard. Additionally, we planted several yaupon hollies in front of the fence to allow their top bulk to extend above the fence to further block the view from the church. The yaupons are approx. 2 feet from the 8-foot fence. At the present time, the top of the hollies have grown approx. 2-4 feet above the top of the 8-foot fence so that the limbs are naturally growing out toward and against the fence...My instincts tell me to trim the lower half to two-thirds of the lower limbs in order to allow the trees to put all their energy in growing upward and outward above the top of the 8-foot fence. Could you give me some instructions on trimming the limbs? What time of year should we do this? Bottom line, we want the trees to grow to their maximum height above the 8-foot fence and further block out the view of the church.


AnswerIf you aren't concerned with the lower limbs, you can cut them off at anytime. Many folks have tree-formed yaupon hollies. They will re-sprout often on the lower limbs, but you can direct more energy upwards by trimming. You can trim at any season, but for maximum growth, try to get the trimming done in the spring to allow for that burst of energy. Do so now before mid June. Lightly fertilize with a slow release high nitrogen fertilizer and keep them watered, and they should do well.

April 2006

QuestionI have several large overgrown hollies and boxwoods in my yard. I know I was supposed to prune them in February, but time slipped away and they didn’t get done. Have I waited too late? I need to cut them back by at least one third, but I don’t want to look at dead looking twigs all summer either. What is my best bet?


AnswerThere is still plenty of time. Severe pruning - taking off more than one third, can be done any time from late February through April. You can even get by with pruning into June, but by mid to late June, temperatures start rising and rainfall usually decreases, thus we see less new growth. Pruning while we are still at the peak of the growing season allows the plants to have a quicker recovery rate. Boxwoods in particular often look pretty barren following even light pruning, since they have all of their leaves on the outside of the bush. Water when dry and one light application of fertilizer should help in recovery.

April 2006

QuestionI have three Lynwood Gold Forsythia that are two years old and have never been pruned. They are growing in full sun and they will not bloom. Is there any reason why they aren't blooming, and anything I can to get flowers?


AnswerAre they putting on new growth? Forsythia sets its flower buds in late summer/early fall on the growth it has put on during that growing season. If for some reason the plants aren't putting on any new growth during the summer, there would be few flowers. People who prune them into specific shapes-- balls or boxes, leaving primarily the older growth, see very few flowers the next spring. Try taking out one third of the canes at the soil line after they fully leaf out. This should rejuvenate them, causing new canes, where there should be ample flowers next year. If there is something impeding the roots from growing, you often won't see much top growth, and then reduced flowering. I am surprised you have no flowers, since even poorly pruned older plants usually have a few straggling blooms on the tips, as long as they are growing in full sun.

March 2006

QuestionI did some minor trimming on my boxwoods this fall. During winter and now the top is brown and dead looking. As spring arrives what do I need to do to get the boxwoods looking good again? My neighbor did the same and his are just like mine. Also, I have a couple of boxwoods that have an orange tint to them. I put fertilizer on them but with no results in change of appearance. Any suggestions. I live in Hot Springs Village, if that matters on boxwood care.


AnswerThere are a number of boxwoods that have white tips caused by winter burn this season. This was actually a combination of dry and cold weather -- next year be sure to water even in the winter if it is dry. Lightly shear off the damaged area and it should leaf out. The orange color is a naturally occurring process during the winter. As they begin spring growth, they should bounce back to their natural green color. Give them a light application of nitrogen as they begin to grow and they should fill in nicely.

March 2006

QuestionI need some pruning advice please? I recently bought a house and all the plants are very overgrown. I am not sure how much to cut them back. For instance, there are two very large Camellias’ in the front. They are so big that they are covering up half of the kitchen window. I am not sure how big they are supposed to be but the trunk or stalk of the plants are tall enough that I will have to cut the majority of leaves and branches off to get them to a reasonable size. Does that make sense? Do you know how tall they are supposed to be? Also, I'm not sure how much to cut back my azaleas. I know I am to wait until they have finished blooming but when it is time; can I cut them way back too?


AnswerCamellias can grow quite large, depending on the variety. It would have been preferable to have them planted in a location where they could be allowed to grow to their full capacity, but unfortunately, that isn't the case here. You can prune them back to bare branches, and they will sprout back, but it will take awhile. It is best if you can limit pruning to no more than one third of the plants size each season, but an occasional hard pruning job can be done. Broadleaf plants have dormant buds on the old wood, which will sprout out after pruning. It won't look pretty for awhile as it recovers. For your azaleas, prune as soon after flowering as possible. For both plants, it is best not to shear them but to selectively thin branches to get a more fully leafed out plant profile.


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