In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2008
Regional Report

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2751

Light annual pruning keeps this juniper layered and attractive.

Prune Junipers and Yews -- But Lightly!

Why exactly is it necessary to prune evergreens? We've all seen those 40-year-old junipers that have never been touched until they started creeping up above the windows. Then they are sheared so they look absolutely terrible for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, it is possible, with a light annual pruning, to keep those junipers below the windows and looking great. Pruned junipers and yews are structurally stronger and less costly to maintain than unpruned plants. They also have the potential to live longer than untrained plants.

Junipers and yews continue to grow throughout the season, and they adapt well to annual pruning. In most cases, these evergreens are best pruned from early spring to early July. Since pruning stimulates new growth, if they are pruned after this date, they tend to put on new growth that won't harden for winter.

Pruning Guidelines
First of all, do not try to rectify years of neglect in one season. With most evergreens, if they've been neglected for years, perhaps the best solution is to replace them with younger plants. Neglected yews can be renewal pruned back to stubs, but it's important to note that they will take at least two years to come back. That's quite a long time to live with ugly plants in the landscape.

Light, periodic hand pruning is a better long-term approach to maintaining plant size and form than shearing. Shearing involves trimming the outer edges of branches to give the plant a desired shape. Shearing makes it difficult to control plant size, causes a loss of natural shape and individuality, and prevents sunlight from reaching the center of the shrub, resulting in a "dead zone." Shearing also removes new shoot growth while maintaining the less-productive older wood.

Thinning and Renewal Cuts
The hand-pruning method that is the best for junipers and yews is a type of thinning and renewal that promotes internal growth, reduces winter injury, and produces a natural form that complements informal landscape plantings. Thinning involves cutting off branches at the base of the plant to reduces the shrub's total size without changing its natural appearance. Remove old wood and any broken branches in this manner.

Heading Back
Heading back is done to shape and slightly reduce the size of the plant. Basically, you cut prominent shoots back inside the body of the plant to where they meet another branch.

Above all, when pruning junipers and yews, work with the plant's natural growth habit, whether spreading or upright. The spreading types are quite attractive when pruned in layers.


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