How to - Techniques

How to prune spring-flowering shrubs

TLC tips to ensure that glorious bursts of spring colour reappear year after year


The bright yellow blossoms of forsythia and the fragrant purple sprigs of lilacs are welcome springtime sights. Shrubs such as these launch the seasonal flower display with fireworks of colour. Here are some TLC tips to ensure that those glorious bursts of colour reappear year after year.

Prune for blooms, beauty and health
Judicious pruning keeps shrubs blooming their best. Cutting off spent flowers diverts the plant’s energy from unnecessary seed production to the creation of plentiful flower buds for next year. Pruning can also improve the shape and structure of a bush, enhancing its beauty and keeping it healthy by improving air circulation and allowing sunlight to penetrate into the centre of the clump. And because many spring-flowering shrubs produce flowers on new wood, pruning out old branches promotes the growth of young, blossom-bearing ones. However, shrubs younger than three years generally do not need pruning.

Use the right tools
Most shrubs can be pruned using one or more of four basic tools: a pair of secateurs, loppers, a small pruning saw and pole-mounted pruners. For twigs and stems measuring less than the diameter of a thumb, hand-held secateurs will do the job. Loppers, ratcheted for better leverage, can handle thicker stems. Large branches may require a Japanese pruning saw, which cuts on both the pull and the push strokes, making them more efficient than saws fitted with conventional blades. For cutting high branches, pruners mounted on an extensible pole make it easy to reach to the top without a ladder.

The blades of secateurs and loppers should be sharpened and honed after every few cuts. When pruning out diseased branches, sterilize blades with rubbing alcohol after each cut.

 

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