Annual Pruning in the Sperry Gardens

These hollies and boxwoods get a light trim each February. It evens them up and keeps them compact. (Note that the cast iron plants are covered from recent cold spells. I’m just going to leave them covered for a few more weeks.) Click image for larger view.

You might be wondering why I’d be shearing my dwarf hollies and boxwood into tight little globes? Simple. Because it makes them look fabulous by early April and for the rest of the season.

Most of the shrubs in our landscape spend their lives in the shadows of tall, mature pecan trees. Plants that grow in the shade tend to be more open, yes, even a little bit lanky.

I use this annual shearing to keep them tight and full. Each little twig that gets cut leads to two or three new shoots that fill in the voids. I try to finish all of this pruning a couple of weeks before they start putting out new growth for the spring, so February is prime time. If I waited much longer, the plants would be investing all their spring burst in growth that I would just be cutting away later. So I do it in the first couple of weeks of this month.

You can see from the clippings that my trimmings are modest.

However, I don’t remove very much at a time. With dwarf yaupons, Carissas and dwarf Chinese hollies, I don’t take more than 1 or 2 inches off annually. By pruning each February, the plants never get so large that I have to do a major pruning and reshaping.

The gasoline-powered hedge trimmer makes quick work of trimming. It’s a back-stretching task, so I do hire some help.

I bought a very good gasoline-powered hedge trimmer for this task many years ago, and this is the only work that it gets in the course of the growing season. Oh, it may get used a time or two to even up the tops of Asian jasmine or purple wintercreeper groundcover beds, but this February shrub shaping is its main duty at our place.

Continued Below

In fairness, before I close, I do need to admit that many beautiful gardens feature highly sheared, formally trained plants. If that’s a look that you like, go for it. There is no right or wrong way to landscape your house. But if you’re just squaring up plants to use as a straight-line “foundation planting” across the front of your house, do consider an easier alternative. This could be your year for a major landscaping makeover.

An informal planting of Japanese boxwood wouldn’t look right along this long walk. Formal shearing is fine here.
By comparison, this “stair-stepped” trim job is odd looking at best. The dwarf yaupons would probably have looked better left to their own natural growth form with occasional trims.
Posted by Neil Sperry
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