Many of us think that deciduous shrubs and plants need to be cut as regularly as fruit trees and shrubs. However, this is not the case. In fact, there is only one reason why deciduous trees and shrubs need to be pruned, and that is to help keep the plant alive for longer, young and blooming abundantly. Pruning should not restrict the growth of the tree or shrub (only formed hedges are an exception), on the contrary, it should serve to stimulate it, while maintaining its natural form. In very rare cases, we use rejuvenation pruning, which aims to stimulate the plant to life.
Usually, all you need to do is to scan for deciduous shrubs to prune
An environment in which the shrubs are constantly rejuvenated, releasing new shoots from the ground, while the oldest ones die, should be an example for us of how to deal with pruning plants. So, if necessary, in winter, we gradually remove the oldest shoots, pruning them just above the ground. In this way, we scan the plant, stimulating its growth and creating space for new shoots. The shrub treated in this way doesn’t resemble the ‘cut’ one at all, but it gives it permanent rejuvenation. We don’t cut the bush to height.
This does not exclude, of course, the possibility of reaching for a shear to get rid of some disturbing branch, improve the shape of the plant or help its flowering. But let’s follow the principle of “occasional” rather than “regular” pruning. A well pruned shrub is one that hasn’t lost its proper habit and looks like it hasn’t been pruned at all.
Regular pruning of late flowering deciduous shrubs
There is, after all, a group of ornamental woody plants, for which it is impossible to give up regular cutting. These are flowering shrubs, where the ends of the summer shoots, i.e. those produced during the year, are only covered with flowers in summer or autumn. Experience shows that these shrubs, e.g. Summer lilac or California lilac, bloom much more beautifully and profusely when last year’s shoots just after the winter are cut to a few meshes. In spring they will knock out new shoots so fast that you won’t be able to know if and how we cut the plant.
Crown forming of flowering trees
In flowering trees, the cutting is basically limited to regulating the shape of the crown, that is in the first years of plant growth. You shouldn’t rush with trimming the frozen branches. Remember that we should shorten the branches to healthy places. Of course we should remove dead parts of the plant. The best time to cut is always in early spring.
Wild shoot removal
A big problem is almost always the rootstock of grafted plants. Many well-known garden forms of trees and shrubs grow on foreign rootstocks, numerous ornamental cherries and apple trees, lilacs, almonds, witches and others. Often the rootstocks start to live their own life, releasing wild shoots. These so called “wolves”, which are easily recognizable by their other form and foliage, should be removed as soon as possible right at the base. Left over, they quickly master the right plant, not allowing it to develop. Because such shoots should be removed exactly in the place where they originated, and often they knock directly out of the ground, you have to get to the neck of the root. The more carefully we cut them off from the stem, the less chance of their re-growth.
Cut is prohibited
We will also meet with ornamental woody plants, which should not be shortened at all, because they either hate it hard, or we disturb their natural habit a lot. These include, for example, Japanese maple (Acer palmatum and its varieties), Redbuds (Cercis), Daphnes, witch hazel (Hamamelis) and magnolia (Magnolia).
The stimulus cut described earlier is the most important of the plant pruning treatments; besides, we also use rejuvenating cuts. This is a very radical procedure, used only occasionally and only when the conditions under which the plant develops are right and the tree or shrub has not been overexposed for too long and is therefore feral. We often use rejuvenating pruning, thus correcting the wrong position.
However, this is not the right method, because after a few years, the plant will again reach its natural size. The rejuvenating cut is carried out in the following way: at the beginning, we overexpose the plant, as in the strengthening cut, but enough to leave a maximum of 3 to 7 (depending on the age and size of the shrub) younger shoots, which we shorten to 30-60 cm, keeping the cone shape.
It is good to remove shoots that appear in summer immediately, or cut them out in winter. If we leave them down, the bushes will remain bald and quickly return to their old, unfavorable form. During the overexposure, all weaker shoots must be removed and thinned stronger if there are too many.
When starting pruning, remember also that not all woody plants can tolerate such radical pruning, e.g. Golden chain tree (Laburnum) may die before it releases new shoots.
Trimming evergreen, deciduous woody plants and shrubs
Evergreen deciduous woody plants require pruning only when their parts are frozen. Formation pruning is also possible here.