Pruning Tip: Let Them Dance


The main purpose of pruning your bushes and shrubs is to keep them the size and shape you want, and to open their interior to sunlight, air circulation and water to keep them healthy.

Roses should be pruned in early March because if you were to prune in August, a very cold winter could kill the new tender growth that appears after pruning. 

If you are concerned about not cutting off your flowers (such as hydrangeas or azaleas), determine if your shrub blooms on last years growth or on new growth in the spring. If you dont know which type your bush is, the rule of thumb is to prune after bloom. With many slow-growing plants (boxwood or junipers), you can prune whenever the mood strikes. 

First, remove all dead wood, and crossing or rubbing branches. With big, old shrubs, prune big deep holes (6 to 7 inches wide) in them to open them up for air and light; reach down deep into the plant and take out several large branches here and there.  Then layer or shape the shrub by taking out smaller selective branches to different heights.

With smaller shrubs, use less drastic pruning but still thin or open the bush up to light and air. 

Always cut the branch at a 45-degree angle, with the cut edge facing away from the viewer. This angled cut almost makes the cut disappear.

Shearing, or making the exterior of the bush all the same length, is an unhealthy way to prune because it does not let light in, and growth is only on the tips. This promotes a weak plant with few leaves for photosynthesis.

Use ratchet pruners to reduce wear and tear on your hand and a small pruning saw for larger branches. Big loppers are not good for close work inside the bush; use them for chopping up cut branches for bagging or cutting tree limbs. As a general rule, dont let shrub or tree branches touch the ground; cut off under the branch if there are two leaders to lighten the load and Let them dance.
Nancy Burns, owner of Garden Ideas, is a Certified Master Gardener; Horticulture Information Director of District 2National Capital Area Garden Clubs; Belle Haven Garden Club President; and Secretary, National Capital Orchid Society. Contact her at