by Susan Harris
Homestead’s Golden Spades Club (highly informal, drop-ins welcome) gathered yesterday to hear gardening guru Gene Sumi’s advice about what to do in the garden this month, and pruning is a big part of what he talked about. (Next week I’ll cover more of Gene’s advice.) Late February through March is the perfect time to prune shrubs that bloom in the summer – while they’re still dormant but before they’ve formed flower bubs for this season.
For all “bush roses” like Knockouts, teas, grandifloras and floribundas (but NOT climbers) the first step is to remove the 3 Ds – any parts that are dead, damaged or dysfunctional. Dysfunctional means branches that are growing where you don’t want them to grow, like the ones that are growing toward the center of the shrub. Also branches that are rubbing against other branches. And the second step is to cut back the remaining healthy branches to 12 to 18 inches.
Notice in the photos of Knockout roses how compact the properly pruned bush rose is. Don’t worry if you can’t see exactly where each cut was made because pruning isn’t exact. As Gene told the group, he grew up in a family of professional gardeners and family disagreements over pruning were common, with his father using a lighter hand than his uncle, who liked to prune more severely. The point is to just DO it, and you’ll learn from the results.
Asked about pruning carpet roses, Gene replied that they usually don’t need pruning at all – only if they’re larger than you’d like them to be.
For climbing roses, Gene recommends removing some of the canes completely – the “puny” ones – and removing the outward-directed ones that would be difficult to bend back to attach to your trellis. Also, remove all suckers. But leave the long branches intact; don’t cut them way back as if they were bush roses. (That would mean losing all that vertical growth and having to start all over again, as if the climber was brand new.)
Other Summer-Flowering Shrubs
So, what else? Now’s the time to prune crape myrtles – if you prune them at all. And butterfly bushes, which definitely need pruning - hard pruning back to 6-12 inches.
Caryopteris is made more vigorous by a similar hard pruning. Summer-blooming spireas like ‘Anthony Waterer’ and ‘Little Princess’ can be pruned now to reduce their size and to thin out for better vigor. Just don’t touch your spring-bloomers, like the Bridal Wreath, Vanhouttei and ‘Ogon’ types – wait until after they’ve bloomed to prune them.
Finally, all summer-blooming hydrangeas can be pruned now without fear of removing flower buds, and they include the Annabelles and all H. paniculata like ‘Limelight’ and ‘Tardiva’. Don’t prune the popular mophead or lacecap hydrangeas now because they bloom in late spring and their flowers have already set buds for the season. Here’s more about pruning hydrangeas.