Spring has sprung and it is time to get those older overgrown shrubs back in bounds. Landscape experts call this shrub renewal. Assuming they are healthy and just oversized, a handful of strategic pruning cuts can rejuvenate older shrubs bringing them back in scale with the rest of your landscape and save you money that you might otherwise spend to remove and replace them. Take for instance this 7-foot tall white Musaenda pictured above on the left. It has gotten way too large and is beginning to crowd out and obscure other slower growing shrubs in this homeowner association landscape bed. Winter’s short days and those few chilly nights we have had caused tropical shrubs like Musaenda to significantly defoliate.
A dormant or semi-dormant shrub provides an excellent opportunity to view a shrub’s architecture and make strategic cuts. This particular shrub has only one trunk and so the best way to reduce its size is to make reduction cuts on all of its upright limbs. A reduction cut removes the upper terminal portion of a limb back to a lower lateral branch. Make the cut at a point which will reduce the size of the shrub to a more desirable height, allowing for future seasonal growth. Make the cut at a point just above the lower lateral branch or bud that you are cutting back to. Ideally, this branch or bud should be pointing in an outward, not inward direction. Remove any dead wood and eliminate crossing or rubbing branches.
If your shrub is multi-stemmed with numerous suckers of varying sizes originating at the base of the plant, thin them out leaving approximately 5-7 healthy young uprights with good spatial separation. Remove older, larger diameter upright limbs and any plant parts that are dead or in poor condition, growing inward (as opposed to growing outward) or are rubbing against other stems and branches. Cut them back to the base of the plant within an inch or so of the soil line. Then, looking at the 5-7 healthy vigorous upright limbs that you have chosen to remain, reduce their height if necessary by making strategic reduction cuts as described above bringing the canopy down to the desired height.
Tools to use to make the cuts described above depend upon the diameter of the plant parts that need to be shortened or removed. A by-pass hand pruner should handle most stems less than one-half inch in diameter. For those limbs that are greater than one-half inch in diameter, a lopper or small hand saw should be used. As always only use equipment that is sharp and in good working condition. Be sure to wear a good pair of work gloves to avoid cutting yourself.
By following these simple guidelines, homeowners and landscape professionals alike can revitalize older overgrown shrubs and make them once again aesthetically pleasing and a valuable part of any Florida-Friendly landscape. For more information on shrub pruning visit: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/pruning/pruning-shrubs-and-hedges.html