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Evergreens are much like children. They require some discipline administered in the form of pruning to keep them in balance. Those that are neglected become unruly and hard to control. Those that are abused no longer make attractive shrubs nor are they an asset to the landscape. Properly pruned, well-maintained evergreens form the backbone of most landscapes both winter and summer. They appear as natural, free-form plants without heavy pruning damage.
One of the most common mistakes in pruning evergreens is to try to square them off with hedge shears. This is particularly undesirable when part of the plant is squared away and the rest of the plant is allowed to grow to a natural shape, making the plant very unsightly.
Some evergreens have broad leaves and some are coniferous with needles or narrow leaves reduced to scales. Each has different pruning requirements.
Broad-leaved Evergreens that go into winter with flower buds already formed are pruned immediately after flowering. Those that produce flowers on new wood may be pruned any time during the dormant period, or if they bear fruit, after the fruit ripens. Avoid fall pruning on these plants as it may stimulate growth and reduce plant hardiness.
Many broad-leaved evergreens are easily damaged during severe winters. Plant them in protected areas and avoid southern or western exposures that alternate between freezing and thawing during the winter.
Broad-leaved evergreens trained as formal hedges, are pruned as often as necessary to shape them. When pruning branches to promote new growth or to shape the plant, cut back to a bud or green shoot. Unless a bud or shoot is left on the plant, there will be no new growth.
On plants with several stems, cut the old, leggy stems to the ground to promote new growth from the base of the plant. Do not cut back all old stems in one year but use a renewal pruning system where one-third of the old stems are removed each year.
Cut out dead or diseased wood at any time. When removing dead or diseased wood, cut back just above the live wood or to a bud. Next week we will cover several other kinds of evergreen to prune.