Pruning Viburnum’s Naturally. Heading Back vs. Trimming.

Nothing drives me more crazy than when I see landscape companies trimming trees and shrubs with hedge trimmers.  Yes, Boxwoods have been trimmed for hundreds of years with hedge trimmers.  Although it isn’t the most healthy practice for the plant, it is accepted.  As I drive around Fairfield and Litchfield County, I see landscapers trimming all kinds of plants, beyond Boxwoods, into all kinds of unnatural shapes. It is becoming common practice for many landscape companies to trim Cherries, Dogwoods, Viburnums, Andromedas, Rhododendrons and all the other trees and shrubs, found in Connecticut landscapes, with hedge trimmers.  Worse, these landscapers typically come once a year to prune every plant on a property all at the same time.  Whether they come in spring or summer, there is a higher than likely chance that flower buds are being pruned off in great numbers. 

Since when is a dogwood suppose to look like a lollipop?

The tree above reminds me of the trees that used to come with Lego sets.  Landscapes are supposed to soften structures.  Not only does this tree not do that, it will become a maintenance hog.  By continually pruning only the outermost branches of a tree or shrub, it quickly creates a very dense canopy.  Inside that dense canopy becomes a very humid space with little air exchange.  Guess what likes hot and humid growing conditions?  Insects and diseases love to set up homes in just such a place.  Besides having an increase of insect and disease problems, pruning this way will actually push more growth so the plant will need more frequent trimming.  Instead of whipping out the hedge trimmer as my fellow landscapers are doing, try something called heading back.  With heading back, you can reduce the size of a plant while keeping a natural shape.  A natural shape that won’t increase insect and disease problems.  Even though this picture is over exposed, I love what it shows.  This week, we had a bunch of Viburnums that needed to be lowered by 3-4 feet.  As you can see, it was no problem to reduce their height and not sacrifice the look or feel of the plant by going into the interior of the plant rather than the outside of the plant to prune.

Will heading back take longer than trimming with a hedge trimmer, probably.  Will your landscape be rewarded with spending the extra time, absolutely.  Why? Because it will be healthier.  Also, if you planted a Viburnum, don’t you want it to look like a Viburnum?  As this plant grows, it will continue to look natural rather than looking like a bad haircut.  Plus, I’d much rather pick up a bunch of branches than getting out a rake to try to pick up a bunch of clippings.

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Richard Schipul
Richard Schipul

For the last 30 years, I have owned the landscape company Designing Eden LLC based in New Milford, CT. We offer landscape designs, landscape installations and garden maintenance services in Fairfield and Litchfield County Connecticut. I am currently the only Nationally Certified Landscape Designer in Litchfield County and sit on the board of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers and Mad Gardeners.


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