Hard Pruning Rejuvenates Plants

On February 12th, Terra Landscape held a pruning training session within the Community of Harbor Bay Isle in Alameda. The primary objective of the training session was to educate our employees on proper hard pruning technique. 
What is hard pruning?
Hard pruning is a technique for drastically reducing the size of large shrubs. Hard pruning works best on fast growing shrubs e.g. Oleander, Loropetalum, and Photinia that are planted in smaller than ideal locations. Slower growing and short-lived species e.g. Lavender, Azalea, and Viburnum are less likely to respond favorably to hard pruning. It is generally advisable to use renewal pruning (a gradual pruning technique) or remove and replace those shrubs entirely. Hard pruning can also be used to re-establish the natural appearance of a shrub that has been hedged (or improperly pruned) for a long period of time. To the untrained eye, hard pruning appears to be extreme plant mutilation. The process of cutting a 15-20’ tall shrub to within 1-2’ of the ground seems drastic, but it is a very effective technique for re-establishing old shrubs.   

“Hard pruning is a great way to rejuvenate old overgrown shrubs. Hard pruning allows us to start over again and re-establish the plant’s natural form and growth habit. It is the preferred alternative to hedging or shearing for size control.” -Scott, Area Manager

How to perform hard pruning
Hard pruning begins with evaluating the planting space to determine how much size reduction will take place. For most shrubs, consider cutting the plant back to 2’ or lower. Next we examine the structure to identify the primary branches that are to remain once the pruning is complete. Remove all crossing or rubbing branches, any weak or diseased branches, and any branches that do not fit the form of the shrub. Now we evaluate the remaining branches to determine which branches will remain. The goal is to have an even spacing of branches that emerge radially from the center of the plant once the pruning is complete. Prune out any crowded branches to achieve a balanced shape and make sure each branch terminates with an outward facing bud site. You are now finished hard pruning.
When to perform hard pruning
Hard pruning is best performed in the late winter or early spring; shortly before the plant sends out new growth for the year. A plant hard pruned at this time will quickly activate bud sites and send out new shoots. The downside to hard pruning at this point of the year is that shrubs that flower during the early spring will have very few flowers. As an alternative, those shrubs can be hard pruned immediately after flowering. This allows for full flowering effect, but the shrub will be slower to fill in (leaving longer time looking at a nearly bare plant). A well-timed fertilizer application will encourage thick and healthy re-growth.
Hard pruning allows us to keep large shrubs in check without pruning them multiple times a year. Hard pruning also results in cleaner cuts and reduces plant injury, when compared with hedge trimmers. Ultimately, hard pruning is a healthier and more natural approach to landscape management. Though this type of pruning requires more skill, we are happy to continue educating our employees in sustainable landscape practices.