What to prune when for a perfect garden

Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada
Topiary and Cloud Pruning in an English Country Garden, Niwaki Niwaki Eclectic style garden
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March is a good time to begin planning and preparing for an outdoor garden. Although things may still look brown and droopy, as temperatures warm you’ll soon find yourself having to work to keep up with the growing grasses, flowers, vines, and shrubs in your garden. As many plants in the interior of Canada are still in a dormant stage at this time, for many of your trees and flowers this is the best time to prune.

You can enjoy a healthy and long-lived garden by properly pruning these plants to lessen the risk of plant pathogens and insects while enhancing the plant’s ability to absorb energy and store nutrients. Follow these pruning tips for a perfect summer garden! Remember that you can also get specific advice from the gardening professionals here on homify!

​1. Start by removing dead stalks and leaves

The first step in pruning is easy to undertake, as it’s easy to quickly identify the crispy, dry stalks that have given up the ghost over the winter. Remove these dead leaves and stalks—the sooner you can, the better—as these dried out parts can invite insects and decay.

​2. Prune summer bloomers while dormant

Plants that bloom in the heat of summer should be pruned while still dormant—if you haven’t already gotten to these over the winter months, the best time is in early spring before you begin to see new growth. These plants, such as butterfly bush and potentilla, can be pruned aggressively: you can cut their stems all the way at the base of the plant and they’ll still bloom beautifully in the summer.

​3. Prune early spring bloomers in late spring

When spring rolls around, you should keep your hands off of your lilac, hydrangea, forsythia, rose, and rhododendron, as these should be left to bloom in early spring and then pruned shortly thereafter in late spring. Pruning pre-spring can decrease the amount of blooms they’re able to bear, with the exception of several newer “reblooming” types of hydrangeas, which tend to give abundant blooms no matter when you trim them.

4. Don’t prune all of your trees at once

It’s tempting to lug out the hedge clippers and get everything trimmed at once. However, trees deserve special attention, as deciduous trees and coniferous trees have different adaptations to the environment. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to remove branches that cross with one another, as well as the water sprouts and suckers that develop on the trunk and at the base of the tree, respectively. Here’s a list of trees to prune and when to prune them: 

Deciduous shade trees like oak and ash: prune these while dormant in winter when it’s easiest to see the structure of the leafless branches. If you’re pruning “sappy” trees like maple, elm, or birch, you can reduce the sap flow that bleeds from these trees by pruning them in summer once their leaves have fully expanded. 

Fruit trees should be pruned in midwinter, as several of these trees can be exposed to a bacteria when pruned in the summer, causing fireblight.

Needle-leaf evergreens like spruce, juniper, fir, and cypress are fairly sturdy and can be pruned anytime between the beginning of winter and late spring, as long as you make sure you prune them early in the growing season. 

Pay attention to pines, however, as these are much more picky. They go through what’s called a “candle stage”—when they’ve sprouted new shoots and expanded their leaves but the shoots haven’t yet turned hard and woody. Pines should be pruned in this stage, and only a portion (up to half) of the new shoot should be removed

​5. Cut shrubs just about anytime

Shrubs without showy blooms (burning bush, barberry, etc) aren’t picky. Trim these anytime except in late autumn to give their new growth time to harden, forming a natural  protection before winter. Many shrubs are trimmed to form a hedge—these tend to have runaway growth in early spring and therefore the new growth should be trimmed frequently throughout the early growing season in order to maintain a nice solid wall. Remember to stop trimming well in advance of winter, just like with other shrubs.

​6. Trim both perennial flowers and annuals

Remove faded flowers for best results for both perennial and annual flowers. This process is called deadheading, and will prevent the plant from going to seed, encouraging it to apply more energy to the generation of blooms.

Focusing on home improvement this spring? Get a fresh look with this ideabook featuring 10 ways to give your home's facade a new look.

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