When will my flowering shrubs bloom, and when should I prune them and my evergreens?



You can track the progress of spring by the colors of the flowering shrubs moving from south to north through Utah. Here are some bloom and prune tips:

* The most popular spring bloomer is probably Forsythia. The bright yellow flowers covering the branches usually signal the arrival of warmer weather. When Forsythia is at its peak, the Daphne begins to flower, filling the air with its heavenly fragrance. Daphne is a low-growing shrub that is often grouped with perennials. The flowers are white to pink and very fragrant.
* After the Daphnes come the Spireas and the Flowering Quince. Spirea are medium-sized shrubs with white to pink blossoms. Flowering Quince has large flowers ranging in color from red to bright orange. It can be pruned and kept small or allowed to grow into a 3 to 5 foot shrub. It also has thorns, which can be a point in its favor if it is being used as a privacy barrier.
* One tall shrub that blooms shortly after the Quince is the Cistena Plum. This shrub, if left unpruned, grows into a small tree. The white to pink fragrant flowers are small but attractive. This purple-leafed plant is also often used for a specimen plant in a group, or as an informal hedge.
* Kerria is an uncommon plant that looks great when in bloom, but looks a little awkward and leggy the rest of the year. The double yellow flowers are striking. It is great in the background where other plants can hide its location once the flowers are gone.
* The last to bloom in early spring are Lilacs and Viburnum. They come in all sizes and shapes. The fragrant varieties have a pleasant-smelling bloom. One thing all these spring blooming shrubs have in common is that they should only be pruned after blooming. If these plants are pruned in the winter, much of the flowering wood will be removed. Pruning after they blossom allows new floral wood to grow throughout the summer for a fragrant, colorful show again the next spring. When pruning is called for, remove about a third of the older canes right to the ground. This encourages new growth, and keeps the plants small and in control. It also ensures that they maintain their natural shape, preventing that "bad hair cut" or "plateau" look. Annual pruning and cleaning will keep most shrubs healthy and productive.


The best way to prune an evergreen is not at all. If you make sure the plant size will fit the space before buying it, a properly placed shrub or tree will need little, if any, pruning.

* The most important thing to remember when pruning evergreens is the timing. All evergreens need to be pruned when the plant is actively growing. This usually happens in May or June. If they are pruned while growth is dormant, there is a chance of removing the growing points and deforming the plant.
* Pines and most other evergreens are pruned using the candling method. The new growth that emerges each year is called the "candle." This growth is succulent and has many growing points where the needles are being formed and beginning to grow. After growth begins, about half of the candle can be pruned off or pinched back. This will reduce the height and create a fuller shrub.
* This method is most commonly used when controlling the growth of Mugo pines and other low growing pines, spruce and firs. Some conifers have short candles, such as a dwarf Alberta spruce and a bird nest spruce. With all the new growth, it would be nearly impossible to pinch out every candle.
* When a juniper begins to grow out into the sidewalk or driveway, there is a great temptation to just cut a straight edge on the plant, giving it the appearance of being a fence or wall and not a natural plant. However, pruning and trimming evergreens to keep them within bounds are accomplished correctly by removing selected branches and twigs back to a branch or trunk. By cutting off a few of the overgrown branches every year, the plant will remain smaller and still maintain its natural shape.
* The only pruning that should be done on larger evergreen trees is to remove the lower branches. Topping a tree will not stop its growth, it will only make it look funny and unnatural and encourage insect and disease problems. If a tree has lost its leader (the top growth), a new one can be developed by tying a lower branch to a vertical stake placed in the tree. Most conifer evergreens look best if there is only one leader, so pick the best and remove the rest. The tree will look odd for a year or two but will eventually grow out of this awkward stage.

Posted on 15 Mar 2001

Jerry Goodspeed
County Director, Horticulture Agent, Weber County

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