Pruning Is Spring Cleaning for Your Perennials

When done correctly, pruning in springtime increases foliage, flowers and pollinators.

Shortly, our flowering perennials such as salvia, penstemon, lantana, and esperanza will awaken from their winter slumber. Much like overgrown hair in need of a haircut, perennials need a good spring cleaning in the way of pruning.

We do this for three reasons: appearance, growth, and flowers. Some homeowners prefer a well-manicured landscape, while others prefer an informal style. Both are acceptable.

In either case, spring cleaning by pruning dead and live branches encourages new vigorous growth. The amount removed depends on the species and style desired. Experts vary on their recommendations. Some recommend pruning to a specific height above the ground. Others use a fraction method, for example, prune by ½ or ¾ of its total height.

Likewise, some species prefer one height and style than others. Ornamental grasses, for instance, say a Lindheimer muhly or eastern gamagrass, prefer a light pruning, yet nearly all landscapers give them a very close cut. Salvia and lantana should be cut to 3 inches above the ground. Esperanza and Pride of Barbados can be left to 6 inches above the ground.

Yet, the main reason we prune at this time of the year is to encourage ample foliage. With increasing warm weather these perennials quickly respond to pruning with vigorous growth and new flowers.

Exceptions to this spring pruning rule include spring blooming shrubs and trees such as Texas mountain laurel, Mexican plum, redbud, and ornamental pear. Wait until after the bloom to prune. Generally, this is late April or May.

Some folks have asked how to prune. Just follow these beginner pruning tips to learn the basics.

Also, always remember to:

  • Keep blades sharp and oiled.
  • Avoid anvil pruners. Pruning shears are best.
  • Keep the flat side of the blade nearest to the plant or shrub.
  • Always prune at a bud or a branch.

Learn more about rose, tree and crepe myrtle pruning.

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