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When Not to Prune

Stop obsessing about when you should make your cuts. Instead, learn when you shouldn’t reach for the clippers

Fine Gardening - Issue 167

An old boss of mine used to say that “the best time to prune is when the knife is sharp.” His logic was, basically, prune when you have the time. Technically, there are more advantageous times to prune, but really, who has the time and energy to make a spreadsheet of all the plants in the yard and document the short window of time they ideally should be trimmed? That’s not realistic or necessary. In most cases, you won’t kill, ruin, or maim a shrub if you prune it outside of its preferred pruning window. Instead of focusing on exactly when, say, a smoke bush (Cotinus spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 49) prefers to be cut, I prune it whenever my knife is sharp—as long as I abide by a few golden rules of when not to prune.


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