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.
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.