Seasonal pruning in the new year

Many people enjoy the annual ceremony of changing the calendar, looking back on the old year, looking forward to the new year, and making personally productive resolutions to pursue new directions.

While I have plenty of ideas for myself along these lines, I was impressed by Melody Rose’s ideas for revolutions for gardeners. Here are the highlights of his article on the Daves Garden website (to read it all, go to and search for “resolution”):

  • Leave things a little messy.
  • do not waste water.
  • Share with others.
  • Know your bugs.

Our gardens follow nature’s annual cycles, flowing through the seasons, ignoring specific dates, and responding to other effects of climate and their unique conditions. As gardeners, we take our cues from these natural processes.

take care of your garden

At this time of year, the gardener should plan to cut back their shrubs.

The pruning schedule may seem daunting, but two basic rules are helpful: summer bloomers in late winter or early spring, and spring bloomers shortly after flowering.

These rules reflect the bloom cycle of these clusters. Summer-flowering shrubs bloom on the current year’s growth; Spring-flowering shrubs bloom on the previous year’s growth.

Gardeners should make a list of shrubs in their landscape, listing them as summer or winter bloomers. A gardener familiar with each bush’s bloom time could accomplish this task by working from memory. Others can find each shrub in plant directories or on the Internet using the plant’s botanical name (ideally) or its common name.

Useful print resources include Sunset’s “Western Garden Book” and the American Horticultural Society’s “Age Encyclopedia of Garden Plants” or “Pruning and Training.” Search, your public library, or local bookstore for other books on pruning garden plants. Print or online resources can also provide detailed pruning recommendations.

Once prepared with information about your flowering shrubs, you can schedule your pruning activities with confidence.

Then, consider the different sorting methods. Recognize that only gardeners, not plants, need pruning. Gardeners choose to prune plants for specific goals: controlling size and shape, promoting more flowering, removing broken or dead branches, etc. Plan to prune your shrubs in pursuit of such goals, respecting the natural form of the plant. If such goals are not a priority, you can choose to skip pruning altogether.

Many shrubs can be improved in size or shape by selectively trimming branches that are reaching walkways or intruding on adjacent plants. However, with older or overgrown shrubs, rejuvenation or renewal techniques may be appropriate.

Rejuvenation pruning involves cutting all the stems of the plant to the ground. Many deciduous shrubs respond well to this approach: New stems grow from well-established roots in one season.

Renewal pruning is more systematic and appropriate for multi-stemmed shrubs. Cut back about one-third of the old stems to the ground to open up the shrub’s structure and encourage new growth from the base.

Here are examples of seasonal pruning in my garden at this time of year.

Roses include many varieties, most of which are popular in many gardens and should be pruned in late winter or early spring to maintain an attractive look and promote blooming. Specific advice about pruning roses is available on the American Rose Society website. Browse to ( and search for “pruning”.

Most gardens have mostly spring-blooming roses, but some rose varieties need to be harvested in summer rather than winter. For example, Rambler roses should be cut back in the summer after blooming. My garden includes a vigorous rambler, Rosa muligani, that needs prevention after it blooms in the summer.

Daisy tree (Montanoa grandiflora). A large, erect, evergreen shrub, native to Mexico, that produces many white, daisy-like flowers with an attractive aroma that suggests chocolate or vanilla. Every year, it can barely be reduced to encourage new growth from the base.

Bolivian fuchsia (Fuchsia boliviana ‘Alba’). It is a fast-growing evergreen shrub growing in the wild in its native regions of southern Peru, Bolivia and northern Argentina, which can exceed twelve feet in height. In the garden, its size can be controlled with annual rejuvenating pruning, after which it produces plentiful new growth and attractive clusters of flowers.

The flowering currant or gooseberry (Ribes spp.), native to California, can grow up to 12-feet high and wide, making it large enough for many gardens (including mine). It can barely be pruned any time after summer blooms until late March or April, after which it will produce new growth and flower the following season. My garden includes white, pink and scarlet flower streams (R. sanguinum) and a fuchsia-flowering gooseberry (R. speciosum) with interesting flowers and thorns. All can be cut in the same way.

Lewis’ Mock Orange (Philadelphus levisii). This deciduous shrub, native to northern California and western North America, grows up to nine feet high, with an abundance of white flowers that smell like orange blossoms. This plant does not need pruning, but renewal pruning (described above) will keep it a good garden companion and encourage blooms.

Salvia spp. These plants are widespread members of the larger sage family. According to Wikipedia, salvias grow in Central America and South America (about 600 species); Central Asia and the Mediterranean (250 species); and East Asia (90 species). Of the many species within this genus, some bloom in winter or spring or summer or fall. They spring back well from rejuvenating pruning, which is best done at a time related to the specific plant’s bloom cycle. For pruning recommendations, visit the excellent Flowers by the Sea website ( and search for “salvius by season” or by botanical name.

Mexican Marigold (Tagetes lemoni). This popular plant can be seen in many gardens because it grows easily in sun or partial shade and produces an abundance of golden flowers with the fragrance that many gardeners avoid. After it blooms in the fall (varies with exposure), rejuvenating pruning controls its size and results in another season of new growth and flowering.

Cotoneaster spp. It is another large genus with many species within the rose family, which form tall, upright shrubs rising from the ground. Generally, pruning should be done in late winter and is designed to maintain the naturally beautiful form of the shrub. For recommendations, browse to the Gardening Know How website ( and search for “cotoneaster pruning.” If you know the species of your cotoneaster, find it online using Google.

enrich your gardening days

A fundamental strategy for gardening comfort, enjoyment and ultimate success is to advance your knowledge and skills of pruning plants. This work is critical to the growth cycle of plants, the seasonal preferences described in today’s column, and includes year-round awareness of the benefits of selective pinching, clipping, and lopping. A New Year’s resolution to consider would be to add a good book on pruning to your reading list.

Enjoy your garden!

Tom Carwin is a past president of Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, Monterey Bay Area Cactus and Succulent Society, and Monterey Bay Iris Society, and a UC Master Gardener. He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society.