Summer pruning fun

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Why prune?

Before you take out your shears and hand snips, ask yourself: why am I pruning in late summer? Usually, obstruction issues are the worst and should be done as soon as possible.

For example, I was asked to prune a dogwood that was encroaching into a walkway. That’s a problem and it’s easy to solve.

Other pruning like perennial and shrub cutback isn’t as critical and could be delayed if time is short.

Let’s take a look at some examples of my work.


Shrubs encroaching onto walkways get residents excited so it’s best to do this kind of pruning as soon as possible. In this case it was a dogwood shrub. Don’t forget to hand pick the branches off the top; they will be noticeable once they dry up and turn brown.


Another pressing case involved Rhododendrons encroaching onto a patio. This patio is well-used by the family and their friends and the rhodos become annoying in late summer.

Always snip rhodos by hand because power shears just shred the plant tissues and corrections have to be made by hand anyway. This job didn’t take very long; it’s like therapy for me, hand-snipping on a sunny day.


One serious safety issue is plant obstruction around lights. Here I used pole pruners to eliminate Red maple (Acer rubrum) branches covering a lamp along a high-profile walkway.


Less critical pruning

It’s nice to clean-up perennials in your garden like Hostas or shrubs like butterfly bush (Buddleja) and lilacs (Syringa sp). But it’s not as critical as obstruction pruning.

Spent Hosta flower spikes can be snipped out.

Lilacs (Syringa sp) flower early in the season and once the flowers fade, it’s nice to snip them out. I did this shrub last week because I don’t normally work on this site. But again, it’s not super critical.


Buddleja is a borderline invasive species but it sports beautiful flowers. This specimen was growing wild making mower access a bit challenging so I took it down by half. But don’t worry. It will make a comeback soon enough.

Buddleja reduced by half.
Buddleja flowers.


Have some fun with late summer pruning; and pay attention to obstruction and safety issues. Always know why you are pruning and get to know your target plants. Plants are fascinating so treat them well.

Fall in love with your hand snips!

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This is a great day for posting a new blog because it’s sunny outside and it’s a great day to believe in spring on this rare February 29th. So, let’s do an easy one about hand-pruning.


The request

The shrub above looks perfectly fine but the strata garden representative wanted a more formal mounded shape. Of course she did! It’s a common thing on strata properties, where there isn’t always sufficient space for plants to grow, to control everything with super-tight pruning.

Time-stressed landscapers often rush in with power shears, fire them up and shred the shrub into a ball. But, there is no need, especially if you have time; and in this case I did. (The boss was safely tucked away at a meeting.)

So, instead of creating air and noise pollution, I reached for my new Felco 4s hand snips and went to work for a few minutes.

Pro tip: always carry hand snips with you on your hip safely in a sheath. There is always something to correct and improve in your garden.

First, a huge advantage of hand snipping is that your cuts are precise and the plant tissues don’t get shredded. Your sharp snips make clean, precise cuts. Power shear have a tendency to shear plant tissues.

Second, another huge advantage is that hand snipping allows you to gently stagger your cuts. This way you still achieve your mounded shrub objective but with a softer look. In addition, it’s a quiet, relaxing job. I had fun doing it and it didn’t take me very long.

Pro tip: take care of small requests right away to impress your clients.

All done!

This is the after shot: we have a mounded shrub, as requested, made with precise hand snip cuts. It was a quick, relaxing task and it didn’t create any air or noise pollution. And the boss will never know!

Pro tip: always make sure your clean-up matches your pruning. Do it well.

I hope that this blog post will inspire you to fall in love with your hand snips. Not everything has to be power-sheared. Reach for your snips and enjoy!

Hydrangea deadheading

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Do you cut off dead flowers from Hydrangeas? This is another burning question online so let’s examine it.

Bad habit

In commercial landscape maintenance workers tend to rush deadheading Hydrangeas and it’s a hard habit to break. There is absolutely no need to rush this task. Why?

The spent flowers can protect the new buds below from low temperatures and, when frost hits, the old flowers look brilliant. Once you cut them off, the show is over until summer. All you get to see is canes.

Recently, I had a client tell me to leave her spent Hydrangea flowers alone because birds like to hide in them. Ok. Done!

I think landscapers enjoy this deadheading task because it’s easy. It’s much easier than weeding and cultivating beds or worse, re-establishing deep-edges. I prefer to have something to look at in winter.


If you must deadhead your Hydrangeas, do it carefully. Don’t cut lower than 2 to 3 buds. Since most Hydrangea plants flower on old wood, cutting too low risks removing flowers for next season.

This is where training comes in. It’s important to train all workers on proper pruning techniques. It happens every year. One unhappy client asks me to remove her Hydrangea because it never flowers. It just produces green canes. What a disappointment.

So, yet again, I have to beg her to stop pruning it. Green canes without flowers means that the pruning was too severe. Now all we can do is wait for next year because the flowers appear on last season’s wood.

I used to deadhead everything on my patio and in the landscape but not this past winter. I let the birds enjoy my perennials and I made some of my co-workers angry by insisting that we leave ornamental grasses standing. And the world didn’t end. So try it. Maybe you’ll form a new habit that will help birds in winter.

Reducing native shrubs by half

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It’s common in landscape maintenance to get owner requests. Like the shrub request examined in this blog post. And in this case, I had enough time to do it and it didn’t derail our plans for the day.

When requests are more involved and there is a chance they could derail your plans for the day, politely decline, make a note of them and do them as soon as possible.

Boxed in by Indian plums

The owner saw me working in a dry river bed in front of her unit and cried about being boxed in by her horrible shrubs. She meant Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), a Pacific Northwest native with beautiful flowers and edible plums. (Cerasiformis means cherry-shaped.)

The other two offenders were dogwoods (Cornus) and one willow (Salix).

All three shrubs grow really well, so well, they block the lady’s windows when they flush out with new growth. She wanted them reduced by roughly one half. Considering it was a mild mid-February day, it was OK to do this job. Quickly. I still had a crew to rejoin and lead.


I had brand new Felco4 snips but I would recommend a hand saw and loppers for the willow and Indian plums.

The idea is to reduce the shrubs by one half but it should still look natural. To achieve a natural look, try to stagger the cuts so they’re not all made at the same height. That’s what happens when we use machines.

This is also a good time to take out some of the big dogwood canes. Identify the biggest cane and flush cut it at ground level. You can eliminate the biggest canes over a few seasons. Don’t rush this.

Left: original height, Right: reduced by half.

Reduced by half. Only clean-up remains.


The owner came out to thank me before I even finished the job. People appreciate it when you pay attention to their requests. I told her last week I would attempt this week, and I did. She’s happy and I can move on to other sections on site.

Mid-season pruning in bear country

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June and July are prime pruning months in the landscape. As we hit mid-season, most trees and shrubs are happily outgrowing their spaces and they must be pruned back. If you missed the mid-season pruning start in your garden, you can still catch up. On large strata-multi-family-complexes, getting off to a slow start can be problematic.

This is why I was sent to do some pruning in bear country. The strata site I worked on gets frequent visits from a mother bear and her two cubs. Luckily, the noise we make with power shears keeps the hungry bears far away.

The pruning on this site was also slightly behind schedule. Take a look at the picture below and identify the problems.



How many problems do you see?


This is a classic mid-season area full of targets.

  1. The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) isn’t completely visible which bothers the residents.
  2.  The roses are sending shoots right through the Viburnum davidii shrubsI had to cut the roses down by hand with snips which was slow but necessary.
  3. All shrubs in the background require pruning.
  4. There are weeds in the bed edges.
  5. Trees have low hanging branches.


So, let’s grab sharp power shears, goggles and ear protection; and let’s get to work.





  • The Japanese maple is now visible and the debris at its base is now gone.
  • The Viburnum davidii also look better without rose spikes sticking out of them. Note that I don’t like to power shear Viburnum davidii because it inevitably shreds the stems. If you have time, hand snip out any obvious spikes without making holes in the shrubs. Rake out whatever leafy debris you can but don’t stress out. It’s hard to get everything from inside multi-stemmed shrubs.
  • The rounded snowberry shrubs (Symphoricarpos albus) in the background are now under control.
  • Weeds are now gone from the edges and the bed edges are cultivated. This makes a good impression on people walking by or parking their cars. Note that the main task for the day was pruning so we weeded only the worst areas. I think the split would be something like 85% pruning-15% weeding. This is where new landscape foremen can falter: it’s critical to get your mid-season pruning done. If the finesse work suffers for  few weeks, so be it.
  • My tree work was limited to obstruction: low branches covering shrubs or interfering with parked cars. Summer isn’t the best time to prune trees. Wait for the fall when the leaves are gone and the crown structure is nicely visible. But don’t be afraid to prune your trees if there are obstruction issues.


When you hit June on the West Coast you should be thinking about mid-season pruning. And if you aren’t, chances are your clients will remind you with their requests.


Why autopilot pruning is a bad idea

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June and early July is mid-season pruning time on the West Coast. As plants flush out people start panicking and out come hand snips and power shears. This is especially true on strata (multi-family) sites where there is limited space and nature must be harshly controlled.


Successful pruning requires good knowledge of plants and an intimate knowledge of your clients’ sites. Autopilot pruning can lead to disaster. We can’t just take a run at the landscape. Why not? Because different plants have different flowering times and specific requirements. For example, I power shear Philadelphus x virginalis but not Rhododendrons.



Power sheared Rhododendrons look ugly.



Owners also have their specific requirements which is why it’s important to keep detailed site notes and inform all new employees.


Weeping owner




This weeping lilac is nicely pruned but the worker went a bit too far. You have to disconnect your autopilot and think about the plant’s growth habit. It’s OK to keep any weeping branches from touching the ground but it’s a mistake to eliminate the weeping habit.

When the owner came home, her lilac wasn’t weeping anymore but she was. And the worker learned a good lesson.


Mind the gap




Last year I was sent to this site to help with pruning. How would you prune this area?

Incorrectly thinking the small Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken‘ in the middle had to be rescued, I expertly shaved both Prunus lusitanica hedges. Minutes later I got a lecture from the owner: he was hoping the two Portuguese laurels would become one. I had no idea. One year later they’re getting closer but I still think the small laurel in the middle is thinking….WTH?



Successful pruning requires good plant and site knowledge. When owners have weird habits and requests make note of them and inform any new staff. If you learn a good lesson the hard way then learn from it and move on. The shrubs will grow back.



Eliminating early summer obstructions in landscapes

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I love the early summer season. The weather is nice and the landscape is lush green. But with the new lush green growth come issues. People start panicking and assaulting their busy green workers with requests.

And often the requests turn out to be minor issues, easily solved with a bit pruning. For any bigger requests, write them down and do them on your next visit.

Let’s take a look at some recent examples.


Mailbox crisis

Last week I was approached by an elderly gentleman who clearly wasn’t impressed by the mailbox Clematis. The vine interfered with the pick up of his junk mail so he asked me to take care of it. Sure. The whole operation, not counting clean-up blow, took me about ten minutes.



To an elderly resident this is a crisis.



This should do.



Not a bad show for a mailbox kiosk.






Again, this is hardly a disaster. Plus, the Hydrangea is blooming nicely. But to the lady living in this unit this is a major annoyance because she has to push the gate open. And as she does so the gate bounces off the plant and back into her body.

Luckily, I was on site helping out and took care of it right away. Always do this if it doesn’t interfere with your day plan. Of course, I did warn her that she would lose some of her flowers. No big deal. She didn’t care.



All done! Problem solved.





Signs are posted for a good reason; to warn or inform, not for fun. And again, this was a quick fix with my hand snips. The dogwood shrub (Cornus) can also be power sheared but I prefer nice precise cuts.



This was an easy two-minute fix.


As plants push out new growth in early summer you can expect to get some interference. Usually it’s not the disaster people make it out to be. So take care of it right away if possible. All of the examples above were quick fixes and the residents appreciated it. Always make your clients happy!


Why I love hand-pruning

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I love hand-pruning! It’s quiet and usually it leads to soft-looking shapes unlike harsh and noisy power shearing. It also allows you to feel the foliage and think about other issues as you work. Below I discuss two winter hand pruning examples.

Privet shape

I was beaming inside and out when I was asked to hand prune potted privets (Ligustrum japonicum) by two residential tower entrances. All of a sudden, a routine maintenance day turned into joy!

I pulled out my Felco 2 hand pruners and went to work. Incidentally, always try to use good tools for pruning. Cheap hand pruners could produce cheap looking shrubs.

My job was to snip out the light green new growth and still leave the privets natural looking. It’s hard to achieve this with power shears which shred the foliage and make the plant look too tight. A more natural form is preferable in this case.



Note the light green new growth.



All done and still natural looking. This kind of work is like therapy.


Laurel fix

Another easy hand pruning job involves fixing laurels (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’) after power shearing. Because power shears can only work at one level there is always some shredding visible afterwards. Fixing this is another beautiful hand pruning job.



Notice the inevitable shredding that goes along with power shearing.


Find the worst shredded parts and hand snip them out so the wood blends in more. Always try to cut just above a leaf node so the leaves cover up the cuts. The laurel will look better than it did post power shearing.





Hand pruning can be relaxing and almost feel like therapy. I love the quiet snipping and the resulting soft shapes. Power shearing tends to be harsh and noisy. When you shred laurels with your power shears, take the time to snip out the ugliest looking stems.

It feels like fall when cedar pruning starts

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It always feels like fall when cedar pruning season starts. Cedar pruning is usually written into landscape maintenance contracts and it starts in fall; it can run into the New Year easily depending on site size and work load but normally the goal is to get everything sheared before Christmas.



All you need: a ladder and good, sharp Stihl power shears.


First day

Last week I had my first full cedar pruning day of the season, cheered on by patches of Rudbeckias still holding on to summer. Just like me.

The line I was pruning covered enclosed patios and it was slower than usual because some owners have incredibly cluttered patios. And, of course, I didn’t have the right of way so I had to be careful not to damage anything.


The set-up

To properly top cedars a ladder is mandatory. I also used two sets of Stihl shears: one short model for tight spots and one extendable unit for topping. Remember to sharpen your blades before starting your cedar pruning season. Sharp blades glide through the foliage and give you a nice cut. Dull blades slow you down and leave little strands sticking out. Try to avoid this by sharpening your blades.

Unless your truck is nearby, always bring a jerry can with mixed gas to avoid unnecessary walking. It wastes valuable shearing time.

I also keep my water bottle handy.

No robots

Never approach cedar shearing like a robot. On this day I had to recall that patio owners value their privacy so I sheared the sides in a straight wall line, except where there were obvious deliberate undulations in the hedge.

The tops are usually hit much tighter for a nice tight laser line.

Just remember NOT to prune between the gaps because the owners want the cedars to grow into the gaps and thereby give them the privacy they crave so much.

Once in a while step back and check on your top line to make sure your laser isn’t off.



Don’t go cheap on clean-ups. You can expect to do some hand cleaning off the tops of plants and outdoor patio furniture because cedar debris is fine. But don’t stress about the small stuff; use a blower for the final round and put all pots and furniture back.

Yes, shearing all day can be hard on your muscles but you get the satisfaction of seeing great looking cedar hedges.

Have some fun with it.



All done: there’s a decent top line and the sides are still green. No pruning happened between individual plants because only solid hedges provide solid privacy.


How to please Block Watch with your pruning

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It’s always a good idea to ask yourself why you are pruning. In this blog post we’ll examine pruning ordered by Block Watch.

I’m not completely familiar with Block Watch but I know that volunteers keep their eyes open in their neighbourhood for any suspicious activities. And that includes overgrown trees and shrubs where they cause obstruction issues, block lights at night and could potentially provide cover for criminals and perverts.

So that’s how I ended up pruning two frequently used staircase areas.







This isn’t anything shocking at mid-season. The shrubby dogwood (Cornus) is encroaching into the walkway so I simply power-sheared it back into submission. Now all passersby can get through unmolested by vegetation and any criminals lurking in the shrubbery should be easy to spot. There are also several daylilies (Hemerocallis) that now have some room like the one visible in the bottom left corner.

Since it’s a bad idea to put power-shears in the ground, use hand snips to fix any missed and protruding branches. The same goes for any ugly, shredded stems. Proper raking and weeding should be done before a courtesy blow.



After shot before clean-up blow.







Again, this doesn’t look so bad unless you use this staircase at night. The sumac tree (Rhus typhina) blocks light from reaching the stairs.

So I pruned branches away from the light pole and from above the stairs. But there was a lot more to do here.

Sumac likes to send suckers up so I had to hunt them down and remove them because the last thing we need here is more mature sumac trees. I also removed dead branches.

Then I snipped roses and Rhododendrons, plus I pinched off the old spent flowers for a cleaner look. It’s a time consuming activity but it can be done on smaller specimens to achieve a cleaner look. Just make sure you don’t pinch off the new buds.

Weeds and cultivation were the last things on my list before end of the day clean-up blow.



After shot. The lamp is clearly visible.




Rhus typhina distinctive flower spike.


Always ask yourself WHY you are pruning. This blog post shows the importance of clear high-profile staircases and night time light penetration.