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May 7, 2016
What is the time frame for trimming azaleas after they finish blooming? We live in
Central Arkansas and have a lot of azaleas. They did not bloom very well and I fear
we didn't time the trimming right last year.
Some early varieties of azaleas have finished blooming, while others are still in
full bloom. Allow your azaleas to totally finish flowering before pruning. Not
all azaleas need to be pruned every year. If they need pruning, do so as soon after
flowering as possible, but no later than mid-June. Azaleas set their flower buds
in late summer through early fall, and we want to allow them time to rebound after
pruning to set copious blooms. I would fertilize them once a year after bloom.
Is it too late to trim loropetalum? I have two that are way too tall for their place
(next to our deck), and I'd love to trim them back 3 or 4 feet right now. However,
if it is too late we'll just wait until spring.
Loropetalum have set flower buds now for a spring display. If you prune them now,
they will not bloom well in the spring—but the past two springs we did not have great
blooming due to winter damage. That is another reason I would hesitate to prune this
late. Pruning too much now will expose more of the plant to winter damage, should
we have a cold one. If possible wait to prune until after bloom in the spring.
I enjoy your weekly column and have followed your advice on many occasions. I have
a hydrangea bush that I planted in the bed near the front entrance of my house, however,
now that it has grown it is about to overpower the entrance. When is it safe to move
the bush, can I safely cut the bush back now?
Hydrangeas are not the most winter hardy plants, so I would not move it now. Wait
until the end of winter or early spring to move it. Also, flower buds are already
set now for next summer, so no pruning even when you do move it in late February through
mid March. I am a bit concerned about some hydrangeas. Many have been putting on new
growth with our mild, moist weather this fall, and some have even bloomed. I hope
they have a chance to harden off and be prepared for winter, but time will tell.
Please tell me how and when to prune a 40 year old gardenia that has grown to 12-15
ft at least. It was in my yard when I moved in 39 years ago, about 4 - 5 feet wide
at the time. I have never pruned it except to cut blooms off for bouquets. It blooms
faithfully every June and September...this year on through October. It seems to have
several trunks but I cannot see it clearly. If I cut some of the branches way back
at the bottom, will it be harmed? I don't know whether to trim it back into some shape.
It is really too big and overtaking some azaleas planted at least ten feet from the
If it needs pruning, do so as soon after it blooms in June next year. The flower buds
are set now for that bloom period, so any pruning now would reduce your flowering.
Another reason not to prune in the fall is that it would take away some winter protection.
Gardenias can struggle in a really cold winter, so leave it as is until next summer.
I need some advice on a situation with some Camellia bushes that were damaged by fire
from a house that burned close to them in Eudora. They were burned on one side pretty
badly and I pruned some of this damage off. As workers came in to clean up the site,
they took it upon themselves to trim them severely.....these are 60-70 year old camellias
and they are now about 3 feet in height. With winter approaching, what is your suggestion
to salvage these lovely plants.....my first thought is to cut them to the ground and
put pine straw on top of them.....but don't know if that is the best solution....Please
I think they have been cut enough for now. I would put some extra mulch around them
if the weather gets really cold this winter—because they are now much more exposed
and more susceptible to winter damage. I have found camellias to be pretty tough plants—especially
in south Arkansas. As old as they are, they have a well established root system and
once we get back into a growing season, I think they will begin to grow. It will take
time to get them to a decent size again, but be patient, water and lightly fertilize,
and they should rebound.
I 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?
Lavender 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
We 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.
Loropetalums 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.
I 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?
Buddleia 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
I 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.
When 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.
We 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
Flower 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.
I 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?
If 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.
I 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?
Actually, 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.
About 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?
Most 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.
We 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
I 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.
I 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?
Many 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.
We have three large forsythia bushes that bloomed spectacularly up until about 5 years
ago. Two of them are in full sun and one is at the north edge of light woods. The
oldest shrub is over 20 years old and we cut it way back about 3 years ago because
it failed to bloom except for a few blossoms on the tips of the branches. It's never
really bloomed well since although it regained its original size in 2 years! These
shrubs have some kind of knotty gall-type growths on the branches. Many of our neighbors
have absolute thickets of well-blooming forsythia so I can't believe it's because
we haven't pruned our shrubs. We cut the oldest bush down to the ground this week
(it had grown up around a martin house) and hope it will come back and bloom for us.
Can you give me any advice on what may be wrong?
I think you have two problems-one is that you aren’t pruning correctly, and two, I
think you have a disease known as Phomopsis galls. Gall symptoms on forsythia are
brown clusters which encircle the stem which vary in size from ¼ to more than an inch
in diameter. The galls are often clustered along the stem, eventually causing twig
dieback. Control consists of pruning out the galls and disposing of them. Chemicals
are mostly ineffective. Severely infected plants should be cut to the ground. Remember
that forsythia is a cane producing plant—it doesn’t have a dominant trunk. For now
prune out all branches that have galls, at the soil line. In future years if they
don’t have galls, remove 1/3 of the older, woodier canes at the soil line every year
after bloom. This rejuvenates the plants and encourages new growth which will have
more blooms. I do think the older plant that has been cut down, should start to grow
again, and hopefully will be spectacular next spring, provided no new galls occur.
The more sunlight, the better they bloom too. If the only pruning that is done is
cutting the plant at the top to make a large ball or box, all you are doing is leaving
older canes which will bear flowers only on the tips where the new growth occurs.
We 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.
Bridal 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
My 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?
Evergreens 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.
Can (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?
When 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
Spring 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
If 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
Is it o.k. to trim gardenias now? When is the best time?
Now 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.
I 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.
The 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.
My hydrangeas around my patio have grown too large. I am not sure what kind there
are, and understand that different hydrangeas are pruned at different times. When
and how can I cut them back to make them more manageable, yet still have flowers?
There are actually several varieties of hydrangeas grown in Arkansas. The most common
is Hydrangea macrophylla—the big pink or blue types. These plants set flower buds
in the fall before going dormant, and then bloom on these buds the following summer.
Pruning should only be done immediately after flowering in the summer. Some of the
newer cultivars like ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Blushing Bride’ actually bloom on both
old and new wood, so if they get winter damaged, you still have some summer time blooms,
but prune them like other macrophylla types, after the first flush of flowers. The
Oakleaf hydrangea- Hydrangea quercifolia has the same bloom pattern, with summer flowers
from buds set the previous season. They typically don’t overgrow their bounds and
are lovely in partial shade or a woodland garden, but if pruning is needed, do so
as the white flowers begin fading to brown. The two types that do bloom on the new
growth are H. arborescens –the smooth hydrangea and the Panicle or Peegee Hydrangea-
H. paniculata. They both produce white flowers on the new growth, and as such, could
be pruned as much or as little as needed before new growth begins. Since hydrangeas
are cane producing plants, it is often best to reduce height and size by removing
older, woodier canes at the soil line.
We 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?
The 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.
What is the best time to prune holly bushes? (Prune fairly hard, not just a haircut.)
Hollies 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.
We 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 gingko, 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!
You 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.
We 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
Broadleaf 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.
We have a six foot Needlepoint Holly planted last fall by a landscape company. It
has lots of berries but no new growth this spring. The leaves that it has are at the
tips and not near the trunk. Can fertilizing it bring out new growth near the trunk?
Or, should we insist that it be replaced?
Sometimes a holly will set copious amounts of fruit, and when it does, it directs
all of its energy into the berries, and not into new growth. It is also its first
year of growth, so it should be getting acclimated and setting out roots. I never
judge a plant in its first full season in the ground. Also, be aware that the buds
at the tip of the branches are dominant, so that is where you will see new foliage.
If the end buds are cut off in the spring, it should direct energy into the buds further
along the stems which should encourage new growth within the interior of the bush.
A light shearing now of the tips could encourage more sprouting within the interior
of the bush, but we are in the beginning of the hottest and driest days of the season,
so new growth may be at a minimum. At this stage in the growing season, I am not so
certain I would do much pruning. Keep it watered for now, and do some corrective pruning
My azaleas did not bloom this year. Do I need to cut them back to the ground? Do I
need to move them? They are about 15 years old.
Many people have had less than stellar results from their azaleas this spring. Last
summer and this winter were particularly dry. If they got dry this winter, they may
have lost their flower buds. If your plants have done well in the past, I wouldn’t
worry too much -- nor would I move them or severely prune. It was not a kind season
for azaleas -- they like regular moisture. As long as they get some filtered sunlight,
fertilize now and keep them watered and see what happens next year. If the plants
have gotten too large, or are leggy, then prune now if needed, but only prune if there
is a need to.
I 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?
Are 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.
My hydrangeas are still in bloom but have grown so large that when it rains they bend
completely over on the ground. I'm afraid the limbs will break some time. Can I prune
them back and if so, when should I do this so that I will have blooms next summer.
Also, how can I make the white ones turn either blue or pink? I read that lime does
the trick, but not sure what color that makes them.
Pruning of hydrangeas is often misunderstood. The common pink and blue Hydrangea macrophylla
plants bloom in the summer from flower buds set the previous fall. If they need pruning,
do so as soon as the flowers are finished. Cut out the taller canes close to the soil
surface. This should encourage new sprouts which should be more stable, and hold more
of the blooms upright. You can cut out one third of the old growth. If you have white
hydrangeas, you cannot alter their color. Depending on which type you are growing
will determine when to prune. The oakleaf hydrangea is similar to the H. macrophylla,
blooming on buds set in the fall, so prune the same as above. The white Annabelle
hydrangea, a Hydrangea arborescens is becoming quite popular. H. arborescens types
bloom on the new growth and develop larger blooms if pruned hard before new growth
begins in the spring. This also prevents floppy stems. Another white flowering form
is H. paniculata, which also blooms on new growth, so should be pruned as needed before
growth begins. It does not need as severe a pruning as the Annabelle type.
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