Pruning Shrubs in Early Spring
by Ruth S. Foster
Certain deciduous shrubs can be pruned in very early spring. Usually we do this to make them look better, bloom better or to remove dead and broken branches. The ones that can be pruned early are those which have flower buds on the new growth made this year (called first year wood). Typically rose of sharon, hydrangea and buddelia, these generally bloom later in the season, beginning in late June or July.
Hedges and plants grown only for foliage, such as privet, euonymus and ivy, can be cut back as well. However, early spring is not the time to hack away at any plant whose flower buds were set last year (called second year wood). These plants, typically forsythia, lilac and spirea, usually flower in spring and to prune them too early would cut away this year's flowers. The proper time to prune them is just after they finish blooming. For the same reason, the spring flowering trees such as cherry, crabapple and dogwood are also not trimmed until after they flower.
Budded branches of all these early spring bloomers can be cut and forced indoors, which brings the feel of spring right into the house. Nothing is quite so cheerful in the rainy days of March and April as a room full of hugh tree branches slowly unfolding their delicate flowers. The closer to outdoor blooming time a branch is cut, the faster it will flower indoors. Forsythia, pussy willow and quince will burst almost instantly, then cherry. Crabapple and dogwood are best cut about a month before their regular outdoor flowering date.
How to tell a flowering bud from a vegetative bud is easy because flowering buds are much fatter. If there are three buds on a branch tip and the center one is larger than the other two, it is a flowering bud. Once that size is identified, one can easily see by comparison, which buds on that shrub or tree will flower and which small buds will produce only leaves.
What should not be pruned very early in the spring? Evergreens for one thing. It's better to wait until just before new growth starts when it's a litte warmer. For rhododendrons and azaleas, wait until after they flower, too.