How to Achieve Shrub Pruning Perfection

Keeping shrubs well-maintained and cleanly pruned is vital for a tidy looking yard. This article delves into the dos and don'ts of pruning, and how to contain strawberry and grape vines.

Pruning Shrubs

Q: Last fall, I put in a 5-foot burning bush and some other large shrubs. They are all sparse. They don't have very many leaves in the center or on the bottom half, especially the burning bush. I wanted them to be a privacy screen, but you can see right through them. Can I prune them to fill them in? If so, when and how?

A: Large shrubs that were sold as balled and burlapped, or B&B, have had a lot of their roots cut off, and it will take a few years before balance between the tops and bottoms are re-established. Large shrubs are not sold in pots very often, so B&B was probably the only choice you had.

I would expect that the plant will be fuller next year and back to normal the year after that. For right now, you need to be patient.

Shrubs can be grown and pruned in several ways. You can let them grow with just a few trunks that have a lot of side branches, such as a hedge. Or you can prune out the largest fourth of the trunks each year and get a whole new plant after four years. The latter method is how we prune most flowering shrubs to maximize the number of flowers. Both pruning methods can work for a privacy hedge. I would probably prune the burning bush as a hedge. If any of the other shrubs are known for flowers, I would prune them the other way.

In either case, pruning them now will cut off leaves that are needed to produce the food that grows more roots that in turn supports more leaves. This winter or next spring, prune each of the burning bush branches back a few inches to force the plant into producing more side branches. Prune any flowering shrubs during or after blooming.

Q: My lawn is being overtaken by wild strawberry vines. I have been waiting until it rains and pulling the plants out by hand. Do you have any other suggestions to get rid of them?

A: If there are not many vines, hand-pulling can work very well. You need to be persistent and pull them at least weekly until they are gone. Actually, hand-pulling weeds is one of the best organic methods of weed control no matter how many weeds there are. If you cannot hand-pull broadleaf weeds, they are generally easy to remove with herbicides. Look at the herbicide label to see whether the weed is listed. Follow the directions, and put on enough applications to do the job.

Q: I planted Concord grape plants four or five years ago, and they have finally spread this year. The leaves are about 5 by 5 inches, and the vines are overtaking some chairs on my deck. But I have seen no evidence of any flowers or grapes. If the plants are going to produce grapes in the fall, should I see something by now?

A: Your grape plants should be loaded with grapes by now. During this season, grapes bloom on growing branches rather than older branches. Since you finally have strong, healthy plants, I think they will produce well for you next summer. They will need to be pruned heavily this winter; this will help them bloom better. There are many branching systems that can train branches to grow into and onto wires. The best books on grape growing for your area will come from an agriculture extension service in your state.

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Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected]. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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