Prune Right And You’re A “Rock Star”

It’s not unusual for a homeowner to hire an independent contractor to do the pruning. Meanwhile, their regular maintenance contractor not only misses out on the work, but loses some credibility.

Clearly proper pruning is a skill-set that customers are looking for and have trouble finding. The few companies I know that prune correctly have waiting lists.

When To Prune Viburnum juddi

When to prune depends on if the flowers and fruit are formed on last season’s wood or on the new growth of this season.

Viburnum juddii flowers on last season’s wood so you would prune soon after flowering.  This way the plant can then set flower buds for next season without the danger of them being cut off  later on.

Most viburnum types fall into this “flower on old wood” category.  But it’s worth looking up because a customer that’s been waiting for flowers could get upset if the buds are pruned off.

Pruning Method

The proper way to prune most viburnum is “selectively” with a hand pruner. This lets you make strategic cuts at the appropriate points on the branch.diagram of pruning pointsMany landscape companies resort to shearing plants mainly because it is the fastest way.  But in some cases they simply don’t know any better.

The problem is shearing these plants destroys them.  Shearing makes random cuts anywhere on the stems.  This causes contorted and concentrated branching where the sheared cuts were made.  I call this “rat’s nest” because of the way it makes the plant look.pruning a viburnum

Selective Pruning, Not The Fastest But…

In the “Before” picture you can see the natural form of the plant is basically mounded.  I say mounded rather than rounded because the sides of the plant should grow wider towards the base. And if you’re unsure of the “natural” form of the plant, look it up.  It’s important to know how the plant should look so you can prune it accordingly.

You can also see the “apical ” or “dominant” growth shooting out beyond the mounded natural shape.  Don’t worry about the technical terms – all they mean is the growth at the far ends of branches wants to get longer (i.e. dominate).

prune plant away from houseSelectively cut back these dominant, long stems where their leaves emerge and side branches join.  Now you’re controlling the plant’s growth and at the same time shaping the plant into a more compact, mounded form.

In the end you have a plant that’s kept healthy and in its beautiful natural form.

It’s never a good thing when plants are growing into the foundation.  Of course this goes back to the initial plant selection, arrangement and spacing. In some cases it makes more sense to transplant the shrub. And your client will appreciate the suggestion and solution.

As best you can try and keep 12″ of space between the building and plant.  In the picture to the left I’ve made several strong cuts to older stems to get the back of this plant away from the house.

pruning a viburnumIt’s natural to just think about making your cuts in the areas where you want the shape of the plant to be.  But one of the advantages of selective pruning is that you can observe the branching of the plant and make that “strategic” cut wherever it serves the plant best.

If you look at the picture above with the hand pruner, notice the thickness of the branch I’m cutting.  That’s 2 year old growth.  I followed the “dominant” leader at the top down into the body of the plant.  I found where it connected to another main stem and made the cut there.

These types of strategic cuts on older wood  help shape the outline of the plant. But equally important is that they minimize the thick heavy stems that can collect at the outline of the plant. Ideally you want younger, softer growth at the ends.

This type of pruning takes time, especially compared to shearing, but the results are well worth it. I find that when I explain the value in proper pruning to my clients they are agreeable to the extra time and expense.pruned viburnum

  • margaret richman
    11:29 AM, 1 June 2013

    My husband and I do our own pruning but as we get older we realize there will come a time when we need some help. How do we find a competent landscaper with pruning skills. We live in eastern NC. There are several crews that come into our community to do yardwork but I don’t think they do selective pruning like we do.


    • Roger
      2:59 PM, 6 September 2013

      Hi Margaret,
      With all the people and companies I know in the industry in my area, there are not many that know proper selective pruning. It’s such that some of the owner/operators I do business with, and really do not offer landscape maintenance services, will offer to do the pruning for their clients. Why? Because they simply can’t imagine someone unqualified “going to town” on their planting project with power shears.

      Most maintenance companies will argue that customers are not willing to pay the extra money for the time it takes to selectively prune. Yes, there is a segment of the market that does not want to spend that money…and I understand that. But there are those that will when they are shown the differences and benefits to proper pruning. The reality is proper selective pruning takes time and effort to learn. Unfortunately it’s one of those trade skills that today, few take the time to learn, practice and develop. I wish I knew more maintenance contractors who did proper selective pruning – I’d have a list of clients for them. 🙂

      I would suggest asking at local garden centers and plant nurseries. You could also ask your local garden club. Are there any trade schools or colleges in your area that teach Ornamental Horticulture? That would probably be a good source too. Perhaps a current student would do the work, or a teacher could give you the names of past students.
      Good luck, and I tip my hat to you folks doing your own pruning…and your effort to see it done right in the future.

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