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Johnson County

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Johnson County
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Olathe, KS 66061

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Best Time to Prune Evergreen Shrubs

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Late spring is an excellent time to prune evergreen shrubs in the landscape. Pruning just after the emergence of the spring growth will provide a basis for helping to shape the plant while retaining the natural look.

What equipment will I need?
Equipment needed for evergreen shrub pruning will include a pair of hand clippers and maybe loppers. No hedge trimmers are needed when pruning for a natural look.

Prune to retain a natural shape
Evergreen shrubs in the landscape look best when their natural shape is allowed to show. Pruning evergreens into little boxes, balls or rectangles is not pruning, but shrub mutilation. Only in formal hedges or landscapes should evergreens be pruned in a tight, sheared manner.

Evergreens are often planted around the foundation of the home to hide the exposed concrete or to accent the doorway. In order for the shrubs to soften the foundation, they must hide it. Pruning these poor plants into children’s building blocks does not soften the foundation, but marks it with a red flag, drawing attention.

What are the dangers of shearing?
Often an evergreen is sheared so close that the “dead zone” appears, leaving a gaping hole in the shrub. Never prune deeper into an evergreen than where green growth is showing. Evergreens do not renew as easily as deciduous shrubs. Once the dead area is uncovered you will be stuck with it for some time. By retaining the natural flow and branching structure of the plants, they blend together, hiding the exposed house foundation.

How to prune to retain the natural shape of an evergreen
Pruning for a natural-look is simple. It is easy to understand. The only drawback is that it will take a few minutes longer because pruning for a natural-look requires you to think, not just whack. Start by looking at the branching structure of the plant — how the limbs come out, what direction they point or grow. When you are done pruning you want to retain this look, but on a smaller scale.

Take hold of each overgrown limb and cut it back at a random point. Cut back to another branch pointing that is headed in the direction you would like for the plant to grow. Repeat this process on the entire plant until all overgrown branches have been shortened. Stop frequently to look at the overall plant to make sure that a natural shape is being retained.

What to do with shear-damaged shrubs
Plants that have been sheared countless times may need to be removed. Chances are they are overgrown for the area and a new, more vigorous plant would look better and help renew the landscape. If the shrubs are still healthy, it may take a couple of years for them heavily to fully recover from years of bad practices.

Pruning evergreens such as junipers, yews, euonymus, and holly this way will show off the natural beauty of the plant forms. Pines and spruces are not pruned in this manner, but that is a subject for another day. Pruning evergreens is simple to do and will result in a beautiful plant that looks great in the landscape.


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Have questions? The Garden Hotline is staffed by trained EMG volunteers and Extension staff who will assist you with questions.

Phone: (913) 715-7050

Email: garden.help@jocogov.org