A garden without trees and shrubs can scarecely be considered a garden. Clearly, shrubs and trees give grace, dignity, and permanence to any homesite. Unless shrubs are intended to be used as hedges, their pruning should be light and consist mainly of cutting back deadwood; removing faded flowers before the fruit forms which might tax the strength of the plant; and cutting back overgrown specimens which have become too leggy.
Any shrub that blooms early on wood grown the previous year should not be pruned until after the blooming period.
If the shrub is a slow grower, such as lilac, pruning should be very light. If it grows rapidly -- forsythia, golden currant, mountain laurel, mock orange, and flowering quince, for example -- it should be pruned immediately after blossoming.
Pruning should be done primarily to keep shrubs in good health rather than to restrain their growth.
If branches are to close together so that one shades another and the flowers and fruit do not form properly, then the offending branches must be cut off. Or if a branch is so twiggy that it is leaf and stem growth, flowers and fruit have a bad time.
It then becomes necessary to thin the twigs or cut off the offending portion of the bush. You should dig the soil up underneath the shrub and let the strong new growth take over.
Sometimes a shrub grows so thick that the sun cannot get to it. It should be thinned. The important thing to remember is that the buds are not formed in the springtime, but toward the end of the previous growing season.
A shrub with two stems of equal size and vigor compete for dominance.
This tendency can be guided by the length they are cut back. If we leave one stem longer than the other, it will eventually assume dominance over the other in proportion to their difference in length after pruning.
Soil requirements differ from shrubs. As a general rule, evergreens need an acid soil rich in humus and little nitrogen. Deciduous shrubs, on the other hand, need richer soil and may be given to dressings of compost.
A leaf mulch under most shrubs will replenish organic matter in the soil. Unless fungus disease is a problem, leaves should be left where they fall. Bone meal and wood ashes are very beneficial.
Many people ask what happens to the bush itself in the pruning process.
When a branch is cut off, the nearest buds take over and try to assume the position of those cut off. When you remove a terminal, the nearest side-shoot buds grow much more than they normally would and, barring an accident, the nearest one becomes the new terminal. Thus, when we want to make a shoot branch out, we cut off the tip, and the branches come out of the sides.
How the cut is made will determine, to a large extent, the future health of the shrub. Suppose your cut leaves a stub projecting from the parent stem or beyond the last bud. The stub usually dies. The moral is never to leave a stub.
Always cut as close to a bud as you can without injuring it, or as close as possible to the parent stem so the new growth can quickly heal.
Thus, the way you hold your shears becomes of great importance.
If you are using scissor-type shears -- a blade cutting next to another blade -- you should keep the cutting blade as close to the parent stem as you can. If your shears are the anvil-type -- a blade cutting against a bed of soft metal -- the chances of a smooth cut will be even better, but it is doubly important to cut as close to the trunk as possible.
The next thing to watch is whether you cut from above or below the branch. If you cut from the bottom up, you avoid getting the blade wedged in the crotch of the shrub.
On the other hand, if the branch is so large that you must use a saw, cut from the top down. In this way the weight of the branch tends to keep the cut open and prevents the saw from binding.
If your shrubbery is properly controlled, nature will decorate yo ur landscape with attractive lines and color.