Shearing vs. Selective Hand Pruning

There are numerous books and courses on pruning.  Between the endless list of plant types, numerous strategies and varying circumstances, one could probably dedicate an entire website to just pruning.

And this would be for a good cause because more often than not plants are getting incorrectly pruned.  It’s a combination of a lack of knowledge and a rush to “get as much done as you can in the shortest amount of time”.

The discussion of shearing vs. selective hand pruning can be a heated one.

The argument against shearing, and it is a valid one.  It causes all the cut ends to produce lateral branching, which results in a crowded mass of branches and foliage on the outside of the plant.

This blocks most light and air circulation from the interior of the plant resulting in bare stems and an unhealthy condition.

However, shearing does have its place particularly in the upkeep of formal gardens.

Shearing and Selective Pruning Can Work Together

Selective hand pruning is just that, “selective”.  Each individual cut is strategic and combines health benefits for the plant as well as making it look good.

The approach I like to take in a situation where a formal look is desired is a combination of both techniques.

In the picture above a skilled pruner from East Coast Landscape is selectively hand pruning these large American Boxwood to clean out any deadwood and thin the plant to allow some light and air into the plant’s interior.

In addition, some light shearing on the ends of the foliage keeps the formal shape.

You can only imagine how many years it has taken for these Boxwood to reach this size.

It is with proper pruning and other plant health care practices that these Boxwood will thrive for many more years.

  • Jane
    7:27 AM, 2 April 2017


    Can I prune boxwoods when they have new growth in April or should I wait until that growth matures? If I need to wait, when can I prune?


    • Roger
      8:35 AM, 2 April 2017

      You must be in a warmer planting zone than I am (zone 6) if your boxwood have new growth.

      We’re doing more aggressive pruning now (end of March/early April) on boxwood before the new growth starts. This way the plant will start its recovery with this spring’s growth.

      If your boxwood are already in their spring growth I’d let that happen and then let the new growth “harden-off” before pruning. For us here in the northeast that means sometime in later summer. If you plan to do more corrective, aggressive type pruning, I’d schedule that for late winter/early spring 2018. You could still do a more conventional pruning this season once the new growth matures.

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