To prune certain shrubs, you practically need a horticulture degree. For instance, you can’t just make random cuts to a Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’) because it will sprout in opposite directions and grow like a weird alien. The same goes for a Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum). And an Abelia (Abelia grandiflorum). But some shrubs respond well to severe random cut backs. (Note: I’m not talking about radical renovation here.) They put on fresh new growth while keeping their attractive form. Their health is barely affected. They grow in a denser shape. In short, they’re robust enough to respond well to severe pruning.
But there’s one important rule to remember when cutting back these or any shrubs: cut at a branch crotch or bud. That’s the connecting point of branches and/or the point where the leaves emerge. It’s the point at which they have hormones that can heal the cuts. Spring is a great time to prune because one’s able to easily see where these points exist. Leaves are emerging now but haven’t covered the entire shrub. So if you cut above a crotch or bud, the plant will recover. Just don’t leave a stub. Otherwise, water will get into the plant’s vascular system and it will rot.
Elderberry (Sambucus). The straight species of elderberry is almost like a weed, a nice weed, but a weed. In actuality it’s a native plant to Northwest forests. It sprouts crunchy branches before shooting up tall shoots and splaying out. Ultimately, it grows in a tall V shape but it can get monstrously large. This is true of all Sambucus cultivars (‘Black Lace’ pictured above) but the good news is Sambucus can be cut back by two-thirds and won’t blink an eye.
Butterfly Bush (Buddleia). Butterfly Bushes sport beautiful flowers that do attract butterflies but they grow into giants. The straight species is classified as a weed in Washington State (do I see a pattern here?). But Butterfly Bushes (‘Blue Chip’ pictured) respond well to being cut back buy two-thirds. Not every year but every few years is fine. It keeps the bush from growing into a leggy, floppy tree-shrub.
Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus). In this case, I don’t mean the tree. Only the shrub. Pruning the tree can be tricky. But redtwig or yellow twig or somewhere-in-between-twig dogwoods can be cut down hard. Again, by two-thirds and again only every few years. But Cornus (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’ pictured) will spring right back and put out even more brightly colored stems.
What are the shrubs you’ve had good luck with in severely cutting back? With care, Smokebush (Cotinus) and Shrub Willow (Salix) can also be severely cut back. Write me and let me know your pruning (or hacking as it were) experiences. Cheers!