Have the shrubs in your garden seen better days? Perhaps you have noticed them appearing somewhat straggly and overgrown and wondered whether severe pruning will improve their appearance or if you should replace them. Let’s take a look at how to determine when to prune or replace the shrubs in your landscape.
As shrubs age, their branches become increasingly woodier and produce fewer leaves, and in the case of flowering plants, fewer blooms. An excellent way to tell if this is affecting your shrubs is to look inside the interior where you will see that there is little to no green growth visible. Over time, these shrubs can become too large for their space, or dwarf nearby structures, mainly if they are located up against a building or in a planting bed.
If this describes your woody plants, the good news is that in many cases, you can bring new life to your tired, old bushes by severely cutting them back. This type of pruning gets rid of the old, unproductive branches and stimulates the formation of new, attractive growth.
To rejuvenate your overgrown shrubs, you’ll need to prune them back to 1 to 2 feet tall and wide using loppers, and a pruning saw for larger branches. Once the pruning is finished, the sight of a severely pruned shrub is rather ugly with just a few bare branches sticking up from the ground, but don’t worry, in most cases, regrowth will soon occur, and before you know it, you will have a healthy, attractive shrub.
Below are time-lapse photos of ‘Rio Bravo’ sage shrubs (Leucophyllum langmaniae) that were severely pruned.
The timing of pruning is essential. Shrubs that flower in summer should be pruned in spring, once the danger of frost has passed and those that produce flowers in spring can be pruned in late spring and early summer, once their blooms have faded.
While many overgrown plants, such as bougainvillea, oleander, Texas sage (Leucophyllum spp.), and yellow bells, respond well to being extensively cut back, not all plants do.
Certain woody plants such as ‘Little John’ bottlebrush, juniper, and rosemary, often don’t grow back after being severely pruned. So, if you have these types of plants that are overgrown and unattractive, go ahead and replace them with new ones.
Another situation where they may not grow back is if the shrubs are very old or have large areas of dead growth. In this case, you can try pruning them back severely and see if they grow back. If they do, great – if not, go ahead and replace them.
It’s important to note if shrubs are pruned severely at the right time of year and don’t grow back, it wasn’t the pruning that outright killed the shrub – it simply hastened the decline that was already in place.
So, how often should you do this type of extensive pruning? Unless your planting space is minimal and your shrub grows quite large, you can severely prune every three to four years, which will help get rid of the old, unproductive branches and replace with new attractive growth.
Maintaining the woody plants in your landscape keeps them healthy, extends their lifespan, and adds to the curb appeal of your home. So, don’t be afraid to do some major pruning every few years.