March 15, 2011

According to John: Proper Shrub Pruning

In his book, Gardens Are For People, acclaimed landscape architect Thomas Church explains the practice of foundation planting (see the first photo) of large shrubs lined up right next to a house as a remnant from a time when house foundations were unattractive and needed to be hidden. Construction and architectural styles have evolved so that foundation planting is no longer necessary and yet it stays with us. Church says that large plants are used and then need to be “clubbed into submission” so that they don’t swallow the house (see the second photo). He also mentions that shapes “learned in geometry” are the most common forms used for shrubs that suffer severe pruning.

 Let’s do away with foundation planting and most geometric displays--our preference is to show off the house rather than hide it and bring planting out away from the house in order to create useful spaces. We recommend selecting shrubs that are appropriately sized and can be allowed to attain their natural form, with the exception of formal hedges such as boxwood. Plants that don’t suffer severe pruning are much better at displaying attractive form and dazzling flowers or leaf and berry color. The concept of creating space with shrubs away from the house is also much more conducive to expanding living space out into the garden and making gardens useful. One of the shrubs most studied for special pruning is the rose. There have been recent introductions of many groundcover and landscape roses that don’t need special pruning. Just cut off spent flowers and prune down obtrusive branches, if necessary, and they keep blooming throughout the warm season. Hybrid Tea roses are known to require special pruning in order to grow award winning roses. Accomplished Rosarian and economics professor, Dr. John Shaw, once demonstrated at a rose pruning seminar that if you simply grabbed the top 2/3 of all the branches of a hybrid tea and cut straight across, you’d be “OK”. It wouldn’t be technically correct, but the rose would do fine and bloom well. I found it very comforting that even the most expert Rosarian would be “OK” with even a mindless job of pruning. So, we should learn all we can about all the special pruning techniques and requirements of different rose varieties and then approach pruning with supreme confidence, knowing that it is almost impossible to mess it up.

Foundation Planting Out of Control

Another group of plants that are surprisingly dependent on regular pruning are azaleas and some of the similar acid loving plants. Right after bloom is finished in the spring or early summer, pruning is very important (along with proper fertilization, use John & Bob’s, especially our NOURISH does amazing things for acid lovers) to grow compact lush plants that look healthy and bloom impressively year after year. Everyone seems to remember about the fertilization, but most ignore or overlook the pruning and it is just as important to insure reliable performance. Properly pruned (and fertilized w/ John & Bob’s) azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and gardenias will look lush and colorful year after year.