Spring is a great time of year in New England when landscapes start waking up and cold winter attitudes begin to thaw! Plants emerge from dormancy by translocating sugars and starches up from the roots and distribute them throughout the woody tissue. A unique type of pruning can capture this magic process to help reestablish a more appropriate proportion in an overgrown plant or to jump-start tired plantings altogether. HG fittingly refers to this style of pruning as Rejuvenation. It is important to remember that results can vary based on species, but some of the most dramatic responses are seen in privet, forsythia, lilac, and viburnum.
Rejuvenation pruning is strategically aggressive, using large cuts to eliminate large canopy portions, or whole stalks or canes. When a plant is dormant, the stored energy in the roots is enough to support the entire canopy, so any portions of the plant removed at this time will respond with an explosion of new growth. The timing of the pruning is critical and should be late winter or very early spring. If leaves have begun to emerge then you should wait until the following year to avoid stripping away necessary resources for current season health.
Ideally, this pruning will be done deliberately and with proper foresight. Fertilizing the plant in the fall of the prior year is a good idea to help stockpile energy and deliver the desired results. Common side effects are:
- Late timing resulting in total plant collapse
- poor species selection that won’t produce the desired result
- A spring with wildly fluctuating temperatures which desiccate the tender new growth response before it can harden off.
Rejuvenation pruning is a fun way to breathe new life into tired, overgrown plants. It is a good tool to wield when dramatic results are necessary but requires a little bit of planning and a whole lot of knowledge to execute properly.