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Rejuvenation Pruning: What, Why & When

Though winter might seem like it lasts forever here in Ohio, spring is just around the corner, and early spring is the perfect time to spend some time prepping your shrubs.

Every three to five years, some shrubs need a bit of extreme pruning to ensure that they continue to be healthy and produce enough leaves and flowers. That type of pruning is called rejuvenation pruning.

Rejuvenate, by definition, is “to make young again; restore to youthful vigor, appearance, etc or to make fresh or new again” (Dictionary.com). That’s exactly what rejuvenation pruning does – it brings your shrubs back to a former, better state.

Rejuvenation pruning involves cutting the shrub down to ground level (or slightly higher). We’ll go into the benefits and how this works in a minute, but first some words of warning.

Don’t do this if:

  • Your plant or shrub has only one main stem. Rejuvenation pruning only works on multi-stemmed, twiggy shrubs like spirea, dogwoods, and viburnums.
  • Your plant is stressed or in poor health. If it is diseased, plagued by insects, or suffering from not enough water, it won’t survive the extreme pruning. Contact us if you’re not sure if your shrubs are healthy enough for rejuvenation pruning; they may need to recover for another year before pruning.
  • The shrub or plant is an evergreen. Cutting any type of evergreen down to a stump will ensure that all you’ll ever have is a stump.
  • The shrub has a large, woody base and is extremely overgrown
  • More than 1/3 of the shrub is made up of dead branches or stems with very little foliage
  • The shrub is more like a small tree, with one (or very few) main stems

Reasons To Do Rejuvenation Pruning On Shrubs

Cutting a shrub down to the ground can seem like an extreme thing to do – so why would you prune it this way? Well, if a shrub has been neglected or not pruned for years, some of the stems may no longer produce leaves or flowers. The shrub can also start to look misshapen or crowded, ruining the appeal of your landscape.

When you heavily prune a plant, you get a smaller, “younger” plant. The systems of the plant get a restart, and many more leaves and flowers should appear when the plant grows back. And if you have shrubs with colorful stems, such as red-twig dogwood, rejuvenation pruning will bring out much brighter colors in the new stems.

Keep in mind, though, that it will not flower the spring that you prune it, so you’ll want to have alternate landscaping plans, especially if the shrubs that you are pruning cover a large area. It will seem quite bare for a while, but will grow back better and healthier.

Which Shrubs Can Be Pruned This Way?

Some of the deciduous shrubs we commonly prune to force new growth include:

  • Forsythia
  • Burning bush
  • Viburnum
  • Lilac
  • Elderberry

When and how do you rejuvenate a shrub?

Here in Dayton, we typically do rejuvenation pruning in February before new growth starts. Any later and you might stress the plant, which can lead to more serious problems.

Check the base of the shrub. If there is weed blocking fabric or rock mulch, make sure it is removed.

For larger shrubs, cut off branches first so you can easily reach the base of the plant. Using a pruning saw and loppers, make clean cuts all over the shrub until it’s down to the stump.

For the following growing season, the shrub will need a little extra TLC. Be sure to keep it well watered, fertilize if you have poor soil (compost or well-rotted manure works best), and keep a close watch for pests or signs of disease.

Shrubs that respond well to this kind of treatment will quickly send up new stems, and you’ll have a healthy, vibrant plant before you know it!