It’s not too late, but almost, for pruning spring flowering trees and shrubs. Just get it done by early to mid-July. I usually like to use July 4th as my cut-off date for pruning spring flowering trees and shrubs.
Spring flowering plants form their buds for next spring’s flowers in late summer and fall. So, the ideal time for pruning is just after they finish flowering in late spring/early summer. You can prune these plants in late winter/early spring if they are overgrown and need major reduction, just be aware that you will be sacrificing most of the flowers for that season.
Make sure that you have the proper pruning tools on hand and that they are sharp so that you make clean cuts. Pruning cuts will seal faster if you have a clean cut. Essential tools include hand pruners, loppers, handsaw, and perhaps a pole pruner or saw for larger plants. For tool lovers, there are now ratchet type hand pruners and loppers that make it easier to prune if you may be lacking in upper body strength. They are a little pricy, but worth it if you have a lot of pruning to do.
Decide what your objective is – is it simply to open the plant and shape it, or does it need a larger renovation? Large renovations may need to be done over a 2- to 3-year timespan, a bit at a time. Begin by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Next, if the plant is overgrown, thin and open the plant to allow better light and air penetration. Finish up by pruning to maintain the natural shape and the desired size of the plant. I once attended a workshop where the instructor told us that inside every overgrown azalea is a smaller one just waiting to escape. As part of the workshop, we pruned azaleas that were 4-5’ tall back to a size of 3’ and to the untrained eye, it was not obvious the plants had been pruned. This is the “art” part of the art and science of pruning.
When pruning trees and shrubs be sure to make proper pruning cuts. Use thinning cuts to open and shape the plants by removing branches at the point where they are attached. You can influence the direction of new growth of branches based on where you make the cut. If you want the plant to grow outwards, prune above a bud or branch that is on the outside of the branch or twig. If you want the plant to grow upwards, prune to above a bud or branch that is on the inside of the branch or twig.
Proper pruning can help to keep your trees and shrubs healthy and looking beautiful in your landscape.
Horticulture Extension Agent
Union County Cooperative Extension
Union County Ag Center
3230 Presson Road
Monroe, NC 28112