Spring 2017 Newsletter



Spring Pruning

Spring Pruning


Breaking leaf buds and emerging flowers are signatures of Spring’s awakening in the garden. They also signal to gardeners that it is time for spring pruning. Branches broken or damaged by winter storms should be pruned and removed as a matter of course. Plants that have died back, can be cut back to the first viable bud. There are even a few shrubs and trees that require spring pruning to promote masses of blooms in June or late summer. However, if flowers are what you desire, never spring prune a plant that blooms on last years woody growth.


The smooth hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ should be cut to the ground to promote new growth that will be topped with billowy clouds of white flowers mid summer. Hydrangea paniculata cultivars also bloom on new growth. Spring pruning promotes large displays of flowers in July and August.

Blue hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, bloom on last years woody growth, which makes their flower buds prone to winter injury. If you spring prune, a blue hydrangea you will be removing this year's flower buds.


The fall blooming bush clover, Lespedezaa thunbergii, also should be cut back to the ground. It will grow to five to six feet and become a cascade of lavender flowers in September. Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Son Flower) is a small tree that blooms on new wood in September. Prune Heptacodium in April and May to reduce its size as well as promote new growth that will be covered with fragrant white flowers in the fall.


Some shrubs respond to severe pruning with vigorous growth and larger leaves. The purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'), or any smokebush cultivar, is a perfect plant to coppice, cut back to the ground. It will respond by producing exceptionally large leaves and robust and more colorful growth. You won’t get any smoke though, they bloom on old wood! Prune red twig dogwood in late winter or spring to produce shorter and more brightly colored foliage.


Lilacs should be pruned and dead headed immediately after they bloom. However, if you want to rejuvenate an overgrown lilac, forget the flowers and prune in early spring to promote new growth. Cut back 1/3 of the total plant. Lilacs will set flower buds in late summer to bloom the following May.


The proverb “Many hands make light work”, very much described the pruning workshop 'Pleaching, Pollarding, Coppicing and Practices of Pruning' that was held at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society a week ago. Over 50 Massachusetts Master Gardeners participated at Elm Bank in Dover. Warren Leach presented a pruning workshop for the volunteers. Then Warren, and a team of expert pruning instructors took the Master Gardeners outside to pollard (cut back) the beech hedge in the Italianate Garden. These experts included Fred Perry, Director of Horticulture at Blithewold Mansion and Arboretum in Bristol, RI; Horticulturist Claude Benoit retired from Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown, MA, MHS's John Forte and Tranquil Lake Nursery crew members Sam Mrozowski and Peter Lemieux. The beech hedge was divided into six sections about 15 to 20 feet long with a team 8 to 10 of volunteers and one expert assigned to each section. They worked together to make the decisions on where to prune and to make the actual cuts.


Whether the twiggy hornbeam or the beech,

The quick, the holly or the lime to pleach

Or little box, or gavity of yew

Cut into battlements to frame a view


He is both gardener and architect

Working in detail on his walls and piers

Of green anatomy, his garden’s frame

Design his object, shapeliness his aim,

Vita Sackville-West (1946)


Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva' -

cut back hard (1/2 to 2/3 the height) in spring.

Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' - cut back 1/3 of plant to ground for colorful twigs the following winter.



Caryopteris 'Longwood Blue' -

cut back 1/3 in spring.

Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' -

cut to the ground in spring.



Prune seed heads off after flowering. To rejuvenate lilacs, forgo flowers and cut back 1/3 in early spring.

Prune Indigofera ambylantha to six inches in early spring.



Cotinus 'Grace' Coppice Smoke Bush to the ground in early spring for great foliage color, although no flowers.

Cotinus 'Golden Spirit' can also be coppiced in spring.



Heptacodium miconioides - prune in early spring to reduce size and promote September flowers.

Lespedezia thunbergii - cut to the ground in spring for September bloom.



Fred Perry and Master Gardeners, pollarding the Beech Hedge at Massachusetts Horticultural Society's Elm Bank.

Warren Leach offered a pruning workshop at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and guided volunteers on pollarding the Beech Hedge.



The team of volunteer Master Gardener pruners at MHS's Elm Bank on April 13, 2017.

Warren Leach coppicing to the ground a Cotinus (Smoke Bush) at MHS's Elm Bank.




Fred Perry from Blithewold, Claude Benoit (not in photo) from Mount Auburn Cemetery, and Sam and Peter from the Tranquil Lake Nursery's landscape lrew also guided Master Gardener volunteers to prune the beech hedge.


45 River Street Rehoboth, Massachusetts 02769-1395Phone: 508-252-4002 Fax: 508-252-4740 or send an e-mail to tranquil-lake@earthlink.net