Garden plants to ‘avoid’ pruning now – ‘reduces blooms’

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Pruning is the process of cutting back and removing old or dying foliage on plants. It can not only improve the appearance of plants, but it also helps to keep them healthier so they can come back more vibrant and stronger the following year. It can be tempting to want to clean up gardens and plants before the cold weather hits. You want to get your hands dirty and prepare your garden so you can quickly get back out there early in the spring. However, for some plants, this may not be the best option.

Gardening experts at Simple Garden Life said: “There are some bushes and shrubs you want to avoid cleaning up and pruning in autumn. Some of these plants should actually never be pruned at all.”

The experts explained that there are three issues with pruning certain plants in autumn that can result in failed blooms.

They said: “First off, it might be hard to see what is exactly going on with the plant due to the thick foliage and leaves. By the time all of the foliage dies off and falls to the ground (if it ever does at all with some perennials), it will be too late to really prune properly.

“Second, pruning can also encourage new growth to appear. This new growth in autumn won’t have time to properly grow with the cold weather and temps on the way. In addition, the wounds created by pruning won’t heal as quickly as they would in warmer temperatures.

“Lastly, and most importantly, some plants create their blooms on old wood. When blooms die off in the spring or summer, the wood that is left behind is the ‘old wood’. If you were to prune back that old wood in autumn, there would be nothing left behind for the new blooms to grow in the following year.”

The gardening pros have shared six bushes and shrubs that require old wood in order for their blooms to grow and flourish during the next growing season. 

Plants to avoid pruning in autumn

1. Oakleaf hydrangea

Hydrangeas can be a bit difficult to prune if gardeners aren’t aware of which variety they are growing. Some plants bloom on new wood while others actually bloom the following year on old wood. Oakleaf hydrangea falls into the latter category – they bloom on old wood, producing blooms from spring until early summer. 

Oakleaf hydrangeas are perennial shrubs that feature leaves that look similar to those of oak trees. During autumn, their foliage can range in colour from red to orange to purple, making them a beautiful addition for year-round visual interest. 

The experts urged: “You shouldn’t prune oakleaf hydrangeas often, except for removing completely dead branches that don’t produce blooms in the spring. Removing suckers from around the base of the plant will help if you are concerned with spreading. 

“If you must prune, wait until the blooms start to fade in late spring/early summer before trimming and shaping. This avoids the chance that you remove the old wood.”

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2. Lilac bushes 

There’s nothing better than the beautiful fragrance of lilac blooms in late spring. Lilacs are an old-fashioned shrub that displays multiple large blooms in white and different shades of purple.

Unfortunately, it seems like before you know it, those vibrant and colourful blooms start to fade. The blooms of a lilac bush only stay lush for about two weeks, and then they start to die back. 

The experts explained that while pruning lilacs is an important part of keeping the shrub tidy and under control, it’s all about timing. As with all of these mentioned shrubs and bushes, lilacs bloom on old wood. If gardeners wait until autumn to trim back these plants, they will be removing all of that old wood used for next year’s blooms.

The gardening gurus said: “You can remove up to a third of the shrub if the plant is severely overgrown or starting to show old age and wear. Cut off any small suckers and canes that are thin and weak until the bush is around eye level. Keep in mind that severe pruning like this will result in reduced blooms for a few years.”

3. Weigela

Another old-time favourite that gardeners shouldn’t prune in autumn is the weigela bush. These fast-growing shrubs can grow between one to two feet per year under the right conditions.

The experts noted: “Unlike some bushes and shrubs, weigela doesn’t typically get too unruly, even though it is quick to grow. If pruning is required, be sure to do it right after the plant has bloomed to avoid removing too much old wood.”

4. Forsythia

There’s no doubt that forsythia shrubs are a stunning addition to any garden. With their vibrant yellow flowers that appear early in the spring, they are a great way to welcome in the warmer weather.    

While pruning is likely needed with this fast-growing shrub, it needs to be done immediately after it is done blooming in the spring, according to the pros. 

They said: “As unruly as it might look in the fall, be sure to hold off until then. Pruning in autumn will cause a huge reduction of blooms the following year.”

5. Rhododendron 

With proper care, rhododendrons are a great way to add year-round colour and interest to gardens. They are evergreens, which means their foliage stays green all throughout winter, adding colour to gardens when other plants turn bleak and dull. 

The experts explained: “Come springtime, they reward you with clusters of blooms in purples, pinks, and white. These blooms only appear on old wood, so avoid pruning in autumn. 

“If you do need to prune rhododendrons, do so right after the blooms have started to fade in the spring. You can remove dead or damaged foliage or branches at any point of the season, however.”

6. Azalea 

Often confused with rhododendrons, azaleas are very similar plants and can be treated similarly, but they are different plants.

Azaleas tend to be smaller than rhododendrons. They grow better in warmer climates while rhododendrons prefer cooler climates. Many azalea varieties are considered to be deciduous, meaning that they drop their foliage in the winter. 

The gardening pros said: “Mild pruning can allow plants to be bushier and fuller, but otherwise, pruning is not needed. Do not prune in autumn. If you must prune, do so right after the blooms have died in spring.”

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