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Pruning Shrubs–Not So Fast With the Silvery Shrubs, by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

So spring is here and the summer and fall-blooming shrubs need to be pruned—right? Well, yes and no. Don’t be in a rush. Beware of pruning too early, especially those silver-leaved beauties that have only just started into growth.

Perovskia atriplicifoia

Through bitter experience, I have found that it is better to wait a couple of weeks until at least 1″ of new young growth is showing.  You can always cut back later, but too early pruning may indeed toll the bell for butterfly bush (Buddleia, shown here), common sage (Salvia officinalis), Russian sage (Perovskia), bluebeard (Caryopteris), lavender, etc.  A friend of mine living in the Delaware Valley had a crescent-shaped bed with a row of tall butterfly bushes running down the spine.  One spring, they were pruned hard just as the sap was rising and the buds were beginning to break. The following week there was an extended cold snap and every last butterfly bush was killed! It was a disaster and very hard lesson for her.

When I decide to prune these shrubs, I always wear sturdy and comfortable garden gloves to protect my hands, and am sure to use sharp hand pruners and loppers ( To encourage vigorous new growth, prune hard towards the base where new shoots are emerging.  Cut above a bud on a slant so rain runs off the  top of the cut. The harder you cut, the more vigorous the plants will grow. Every few years take the whole plant down to about a foot from ground level to increase vigor and control size.

Salvia officinalis

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