Give ‘Em a Hand

Winter is a great time to think about spring. When I was a kid, we power-trimmed our shrubs into harsh geometric shapes. But in my horticulture classes I learned this landscaping method is not only outdated, but also bad for a plant’s health. I learned to understand the plants I would one day design into a landscape, and most of them are not naturally box, ball, or cone shaped.

I now appreciate a plant’s natural growth habit and individuality. Each plant can make its own statement if we know its structure and how it will behave in our garden. With proactive maintenance, a plant other than a hedge or topiary won’t require shearing.  Regular hand or texture pruning will easily maintain the desired size.

Hand pruning is different than shearing (trimming the outer edges of a plant). It requires reaching into the plant to remove dead branches or those getting out of control.  It also encourages new growth from within.

Most homeowners trim only when a plant has grown too large.  But an early-spring cutback will control size and allow new growth to fill in rather than out. Evergreens, roses, crepe myrtles, butterfly bushes, and spireas all can be cut back in the spring. Azaleas, rhododendrons, and lilacs should be trimmed only after they have flowered to prevent removal of buds that were set in the fall.

Some regular hand pruning is necessary throughout the season, but a heavier cutback in the spring should leave plants looking lovely in June.

— Brian Wildeman is a designer with Landscapes by Dallas Foster

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