By Julie Martens Forney
Grab your hand pruners and loppers, and don’t forget to sharpen blades and oil hinges. It’s time to do some spring pruning!
Early spring is an ideal time to tackle much of the garden’s pruning. In most Mid-Atlantic locations this spring pruning window falls between late winter and April.
Of course there are exceptions to spring pruning, including flowering crabapple trees (above). Avoid pruning those and other plants susceptible to fire blight, such as hawthorn, flowering quince, pyracantha, apple and pear, from the time blossoms appear until leaves drop in autumn. Prune other spring-blooming shrubs and trees, including dogwood, kerria, and forsythia, after flowers fade.
Ornamental Grasses and Perennials
Prune ornamental grasses and liriope before new growth appears. Trim liriope to 3 in and grasses to 4–6 in. To prevent the centers from dying out, cut ornamental grass clumps so stems in the centers are slightly higher than those near edges. This photo shows a spring-pruned Morning Light (Miscanthus sinensis) in the background.
Prune woody perennial shrubs, such as Russian sage (in the foreground right), butterfly bush, lavender, and caryopteris, before new growth appears in spring. Clip Russian sage and butterfly bush to 6 in, and caryopteris to within 1 in of living wood. Remove only 1 to 2 in from tips of lavender stems.
Wait to prune summer bloomers, including mock orange, lilac, and bridal wreath spirea, until after plants flower.
If you want evergreen shrubs, including hollies, boxwood, cedars, and junipers, to have natural appearances, prune them in late winter to early spring, before new growth appears. If your garden style is more formal, wait until after new growth appears; then clip and snip shrubs into shape.
Prune shrubs with colorful stems, such as yellow and red twig dogwood, before mid-April.
The secret to maintaining bright stems on these plants is to remove one-third of them yearly, so you never have any stems older than three years.