The cut stops here.

CONEFLOWER BLOOM AFTER PINCHING"The object of pruning is to control and direct growth, to improve health, to increase bloom, (or fruit) production and to shape
aesthetically. It should be done in a timely manner, not postponed until the day you confront the jungle that used to be your yard – which is your expensive landscape.

It is understood that spring blooming shrubs, particularly azaleas, must be pruned as soon as practicable after blooming in order to use the new growing season to produce buds for next year’s flowers. In the case of azaleas, wherever you cut you gain three new shoots for next spring’s display.

Deciduous woody shrubs such as forsythia, spiraea and flowering quince fall into this category. They should be renovated every spring by cutting to the ground the oldest, thickest stems, enabling new shoots to develop with access to light, air and water. Crowded, thick and crossing stems are injurious to the plant’s health, appearance and flower production.

That is pretty basic and not all that difficult if kept up with faithfully, in a timely manner. It is all about directing the energy of the plant to the area of need, while not allowing growth energy to be wasted on old, dying or damaged branches.

The same is true of suckers, skinny shoots that emerge from the root system of trees. Be sure to cut them off as soon as noticed.

WELL-PRUNED CRAPE MYRTLETrees can sometimes be handled by the owner if care is initiated early on. The basic principles are: (1) cut off all dead and obviously dying branches, and those crossing or rubbing together – a source of future trouble, (2) thin or take out secondary branches to force plant energy into the stronger and more shapely branches. Although a subjective decision, surely one’s eye can learn to determine what appears healthy and productive as opposed to the scrawny, sick and unpromising. Again, this admits light, air and - with luck - “a nest of robins in her hair,” according to Joyce Kilmer.

Lacking  the will/desire to tackle the above? Contact a certified arborist if the tree is an important element in your landscape (see yellow pages under “Tree Service.”)

When pruning hedges for size control and foliage sufficiency, be sure to prune down inside the plant instead of shaving off the top. Shaving or leveling the top will result in new growth rising above the cut and you will be back where you started. While encouraging new growth within the plant, you will have the opportunity to cut old twiggy, dead and dying growth that has expired due to lack of light and air. Correct pruning will help rejuvenate an old sparse shrub or tree.

When this type of pruning is done in the spring or early summer, be sure to help things along with a shot of fertilizer, 5-10-5 is fine, or a Jobe’s tree spike. Always water before and after fertilizing, although it better not to do so in the heat of a midsummer day. Right after a good rain shower is perfect.

Now for pinching, deadheading and cutting back of perennial plants – all a form of pruning. Early flowering perennials should be cut back by one-half at completion of blooming to encourage regrowth and repeat flowering. Most will respond this way. You have nothing to lose because overgrown, bloomed-out plants are unattractive, taking up valuable space with no benefit. These include coreopsis and salvia, among others.

LAYERED LOOK OF A JAPANESE MAPLE AFTER PRUNINGPinching out the top bud as soon as it forms will double bloom as removing the apical bud results in two flower shoots instead of one. Dead-heading is absolutely essential for bloom reproduction on many plants – notably pansies and snapdragons, while impatiens and begonias obligingly drop spent flowers on their own.

For creative pruning, the Japanese are the unchallenged masters of this art. In contrast to the European style of stiffly pruned topiary and rigid parterre gardens, Japanese gardeners prune to create living pieces of art by revealing and emphasizing the growth pattern of trunks, while achieving frequently whimsical but elegant and beautiful foliage patterns. For South Carolina’s interpretation of this art form, visit Pearl Fryar’s Web site,, and be enchanted.