Don’t shear them into hedges
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Photo/Illustration: Melissa Lucas
It is not unusual to see hearty cane-growing shrubs fall victim to hedge shears. While this approach keeps plants from becoming unwieldy, it robs them of their shapely figures and puts them at risk of an insect or disease infestation. Hedge shears merely remove the tips of branches and stems, leaving the same stems on the plant. With age, these stems become more susceptible to borers, cankers, and other problems. They also are less likely to produce flowers and vigorous side shoots. The best way to keep cane-growing shrubs healthy, productive, and looking good is to periodically thin out old stems. This should be done after the flowers fade for spring-blooming shrubs or in early spring for summer- or fall-blooming shrubs (or shrubs that don’t bloom much at all).
Begin maintenance pruning in your cane-growing shrub’s third growing season. Start by removing the three oldest (thickest) stems at ground level. This will open up the structure of the plant, allowing more light and air to reach the center. Next, judiciously prune more stems at ground level and in a random, natural-looking pattern until about one-third of the stems are removed, making sure to start with any stems that are damaged or diseased.
Finally, step back and look for aberrant or unwieldy growth. Cut back any branches or stems that are unappealing or look out of place. This will give the shrub a finished yet natural appearance in the landscape and will likely reduce the overall size of your plant—a common pruning goal. Making this an annual routine will result in healthy and vigorous cane-growing shrubs.