While out and about the other day, I noticed many people doing the annual fall cleanup of the yard in preparation for the winter months. Seeing this got me to thinking about some of the problems that people can create for themselves during this cleanup time.

One of the things people do in the fall is cut back some of the overgrown plants that are growing in their yards. This is probably a logical thing to think of doing, but are you doing more harm than good?

Let me explain to you why fall pruning may not be a good thing to be doing now.

Many of the shrubs that you planted in your yard are flowering shrubs. Think rhododendrons and hydrangeas. Is it a good idea to be pruning them back now?

Let’s start with the rhododendrons and other spring flowering plants. By now, the rhododendrons have set their flower buds for next spring. If you prune back the plant now, the odds are that you are going to be removing many of the flower buds. Come next spring, you will have few, if any, flowers on your rhododendrons.

Pruning rhododendrons back now can also lead to the cuts not healing over before the winter sets in. Those cuts will be areas from which the dry winter winds can pull out additional moisture, subsequently causing more winter dieback on the plant.

The same holds true for most of the spring flowering plants that keep their leaves all winter. For the most part, these plants should be pruned back in the spring as soon as they are done flowering. Pruning when the plants are done flowering will encourage more new growth, which in many cases will mean more places for new flower buds to form.

You should also consider if you really want to prune back those overgrown forsythia bushes. They, too, have set their flower buds for 2020. If you prune them back now, they will have fewer flowers in the spring. The correct time to prune them back is right after they are done flowering in the spring.

Even though hydrangeas flower in the summer, the vast majority of the new varieties flower next summer on the new growth that came up this year. Soon enough, the leaves will fall off the hydrangeas and you will be left with a bunch of brown-looking sticks. Many people look at those sticks and, thinking that the sticks are dead, will cut the plant back to the ground.

Come the spring, new growth will emerge from the ground, but the plants will not have any flowers during the summer. Even though those canes look dead now, you should not be cutting them back this fall.

With that being said, the newer Endless Summer family of hydrangeas will produce flowers on the new growth that comes out next spring and summer. However, for the maximum number of flowers on your hydrangeas, it is best to not cut back most varieties of hydrangeas this fall.

So now that you are totally confused, the old rule of thumb is that if the shrub flowers in the spring, you cut the shrub back when it is done flowering.

With the exception of most hydrangeas, summer flowering shrubs will set their buds on the new growth that comes out in the spring. Those shrubs could be cut back now, but you still run the risk of the shrubs drying out if those cuts don’t heal up before winter sets in.

I think it is really important to keep those care tags that come with the shrubs that you buy at the nursery. Often, the tags will tell you when the proper pruning time is for that shrub. Even if it doesn’t, a quick online search can tell you about the proper pruning time.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

Tim Lamprey has worked in the lawn and garden industry for 45 years.

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