Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Big Chop: Summer Pruning for Spring Flowers

Every June I celebrate the end of the school year with my annual prune-a-thon. All the insanity involved with being a public school teacher with 165 students vanishes as I chop away at my spring blooming shrubs. It's cathartic and rejuvenating. My stress and frustration dissipate as I cut away the unnecessary growth, revealing the heart of the shrub, and priming it for the summer growth that guarantees spring flowers. I cut the year away and use the summer to recover, much like my shrubs. By the time they're full of new growth, so am I.

If I don't prune the  shrubs, I won't have any flowers. 


Sweetspire 'Little Henry' is native to Virginia and grows well in a moist corner of my garden. Long, honey scented flowers cover the shrub every spring, attracting bees and other pollinators.



The flowers form on the branches that grew last summer. Wood that grew during the summer of 2011 developed the flower buds that bloomed during spring 2012. Flowers only grow on last season's wood.



Here's the sweetspire this week before I pruned it. It was completely finished blooming and had started to grow new branches.


Every seed pod needed to be removed. I want the shrub to put its energy into creating new growth, not setting seed.


Three sweetspire grow in my dogwood garden. They are suckering shrubs that are very easy to grow in moist soil. If left unpruned, they'll stop blooming and will crowd out neighboring plants. This one is putting the squeeze on a nearby campanula.


Here's the same sweetspire before being pruned. It needs to be reduced to about one third of its original size. 


After being pruned


 The campanula and milkweed now have more room and greater exposure to sunlight. Pruning the shrub also gives me a chance to pull out any suckers and cut away broken or dead branches.


 The brown stems are several years old. The green stems growing off the brown stems are last years growth. This is the growth that produced flowers this spring. 


 The smooth green stems are recent growth that will produce flower buds this year. The buds will bloom next spring.


I cut the branches on an angle near growth buds.


Slender deutzia is an extremely easy old fashioned shrub that requires minimal care. This cultivar is called 'Pink a Boo'.


These flowers all developed on branches that grew last summer. If I don't cut it back so it can grow more branches, I won't have any flowers next spring.


I look forward to this lush display every year.



After blooming but before being pruned


After I pruned the deutzia, they looked like plucked chickens. I cut out all the growth from last year and shortened the new growth to keep the size and shape of the shrubs consistent.
 After pruning them, I gave each shrub about two heaping cups of Espoma Plant Tone mixed with Dr. Earth's Flower fertilizer, and then watered deeply. This fall I will cover the base of the deutzia and sweetspire, both of which are deciduous, with a big pile of compost. Winter rains will work it into the soil. Next spring, the shrubs will be covered with flowers.


Post-pruning carnage


 The branches from the back of the shrub were thrown down the basement steps. I didn't have anywhere else to put them!


I've attached a handy link that provides excellent advice on when to prune flowering shrubs. This is geared towards southern gardens so you may need to adjust the schedule to accommodate climatic differences.

37 comments:

  1. Your shrubs are living proof that your pruning regime works. They are a mass of blooms. Never any rest for the gardener though, is there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love to prune and have to rein myself in. I usually regret all pruning done when angry. :o)

      Delete
  2. Fascinating post. Loved the shrubs. I'm about to look them up and see if they can be grown in the PNW.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope they can! I rarely see deutzia in anyone's garden, which is a shame since it's super easy to grow.

      Delete
  3. I love the Pink A Boo! I'm totally unfamiliar with this shrub, looks great in bloom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I first heard about this shrub in Steve Bender's book Passalong Plants. It's an old southern shrub.

      Delete
  4. Your deutzia is a beautiful plant! thank you for the pruning lesson and for the chart. Hydrangeas are always a pruning challenge for me. I have oakleaf, mophead, and lacecap and I think the chart will be very helpful. Have a happy summer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could never figure out how to prune hydrangea, aside from cutting off what was obviously dead. I hit gold when I found that chart online!

      Delete
  5. Wonderful deutzia! It's pity deutzia isn't hardy for our climate, I would be glad to have it here too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's too bad. It's such a tough shrub.

      Delete
  6. Great post. Love your flowering shrubs, some lovely choices for the garden.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks!! I'm a sucker for an easy flowering shrub. :o)

      Delete
  7. I bet you feel ready to enjoy your summer now, stress free! Great post and those blooms are impressive thanks to your expert pruning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Summer just couldn't come fast enough this year. The sheer volume of flowers on the deutzia blows me away every spring. It's like a pink fireworks display.

      Delete
  8. I just checked out your link...Walter Reeves is great. He taught my soils class when I went through the Master Gardener certification. I listen to his radio program on Saturday mornings and he does a lot with Master Gardener groups in Georgia. Super guy!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've met him? Awesome!! I always look for his articles when I'm digging for info online.

      Delete
  9. Nice pruning post. I almost thought the big chop was going to be because of the weather. Yesterday many of my plants got chopped because we have had so little rain. I cut them back and removed flowers to help the plants out a little in our dry conditions. All the roses are roseless today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I really hope you get some rain soon. I obsess over our rainfall every summer. Rain barrels are only helpful when they're full of rain.

      Delete
  10. My Henry's Garnet itea is in full bloom now and just beautiful. I did not realize it would stop blooming in future years. Your post is really detailed and helpful, especially with the photos. I've never pruned my sweetspire, and now think I need to get out there after the show is over in a few weeks (I'm behind you for blooming of course.)

    What a show your deutzia puts on too! Wow. I laughed at the reference to plucked chickens, but boy it sure seems to help them!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I found out they stopped blooming the hard way: I didn't prune them for two years and they stopped blooming. They also nearly took over the dogwood garden. Fortunately, the suckers are really easy to pull. The deutzia recover pretty quickly and only look like naked chickens for a few weeks. :o)

      Delete
  11. What a great post. I'm sure those 2 shrubs, sweetspire and deutzia wouldn't do well in our NE Ohio harsh winters. But the principles apply. Great b4 and after pics.

    Regards you pics Rocky mountain coneflowers, echinacea Tennesseensis also bloom only toward the East. Bummer that the ones I used to have were in the east bed, so I never really got to see the blooms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure how hardy either shrub is. I think they're good through zone 5. Flowers that bloom towards one direction are both funny and a bit fascinating. I wonder how they know which way to turn?

      Delete
  12. A few things: love the Rocky Top coneflower! So cute. Thank you for the link because I'm now curious how to prune my oak leaf hydrangea. It's new to my garden. And, I'm completely thrilled for you and a little jealous that you have your windows thrown open to enjoy the weather! My parents said it has bee beautiful there lately!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our weather lately has been phenomenal. But we'll be at 99 by Thursday. It was hotter in March than it was in May. So weird! Glad the chart is helpful. I have no idea how to prune any type of hydrangea. I was always slightly terrified I'd accidentally cut off all the next season's flowers.

      Delete
  13. I would never have know those deutzia were the same plants. I had to go back and look again because after the pruning the plants tripled! I was sure it was just one really large shrub at first. Great job with the pruners.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I planted all three shrubs I don't think I paid much attention to how wide they'd get. But I love how full they are. I love shrubs that are a bit wild and carefree. :o)

      Delete
  14. I liked this post a lot, now I know what I am doing tomorrow!! Little Henry is getting a trim! Like your link, I saved it to my desktop. It is a handy one page resource.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The chart is a winner! Have no pity on Little Henry. He'll bounce back. :o)

      Delete
  15. A firm hand in the garden always yields great rewards :) I love the name of the deutzia: Pink A Boo, suits it perfectly!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I completely agree! Plants look so much better when they've been trimmed and shaped. My pruning seems brutal but it's the botanical equivalent of a summer hair cut.

      Delete
  16. Excellent informational post--and you include lovely photos of your blooming shrubs, too! The Deutzia is spectacular, and your other shrubs obviously benefit from your expert trimming, as well. I was a little scared reading the beginning of the post, though. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've learned that angry, stress driven pruning often has regrettable consequences! But it's a good way to take out tree branches that need a bit of muscle. I probably should have made the intro either shorter or longer since it's a bit half baked. But I find it totally without coincidence that I time my pruning to coincide with the end of the school year. I cut the year away and use the summer to recover, much like my shrubs. :o)

      Delete
  17. Hooray for the end of the school year!! Your shrubs are gorgeous. I'm sure it was great stress relief for you to trim them back! Thanks for that link. I saw that I can trim my hydrangeas back in July in AUgust, which is nice because I'd always thought that if i did they wouldn't bloom the following year.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have that same deutzia growing by my kitchen door. It is so covered in bloom that even Mr O noticed it, which is quite remarkable-- But mostly I wanted to say that I loved how you threw the pruned branches down the basement stairs. I think it kind of reminded me of confetti at New Year's, very fun!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Pruning is really great therapy, isn't it? I love the instant gratification of it. And of course it benefits the shrub as well as the gardener so it's a win-win. Great post. Enjoy your summer!

    ReplyDelete
  20. You obviously do a great job pruning, the pictures of your bushes in bloom are amazing! You haunt me with that shot of deutzia with dead nettles, I just can't believe how lush they look...

    ReplyDelete
  21. The deutzia and sweetspire are gorgeous in bloom! Obviously you are doing it right!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for visiting my blog! Feel free to comment on the posts or photos.