There’s a conifer for almost any landscaping situation. They can be mixed into perennial gardens or foundation plantings. Some make wonderful hedges, shrub borders and even specimen plants. But sometimes you need to prune conifers to keep them looking their best and in scale with their surroundings.
Timing is important when pruning conifers. Spring is a good time to prune many of them. But within that, some recover best if you prune before new growth starts, and others do best if you prune just as the new growth is starting: With many junipers, false cypresses, yews and hemlocks, prune in early spring, before new growth stretches. That way the new foliage will cover up where you’ve cut so you’re not left all season with a plant that looks as if it just had a haircut. Pine, spruce and fir are best pruned just as new tips, the candles, begin to stretch in spring. All you need to do is nip back the shoots before the new needles form.
PHOTOS: © Richard Bloom
The ‘Prostrata’?spruce (Picea pungens
) in the top photo is beginning to get too large for its place in the garden. Rather than remove it, prune it. The first step is to cut back the branches that are forming leaders. Click on the photos for larger images.
Next, shorten the longest side branches. Never cut the stem back to a point where there’s no foliage left. If you do, some, such as yew and hemlock, will leaf out again. But most won’t, and you’ll be left with lots of bare stubs. The spruce in the second photo still has a natural-looking form, but now it fits better in its surroundings and new growth will quickly cover the cuts.
For more information on pruning all kinds of plants, check out The Pruner’s Bible at right.