You may have heard the terms “rejuvenation pruning” or “renovation pruning” and wondered what it meant. What exactly is being “rejuvenated” or “renovated”?
Basically, it involves cutting a shrub right down to the ground. That’s right – just whack the whole thing down to ground level or just a little higher.
Surprisingly, shrubs that respond well to this kind of treatment will quickly send up new stems. Over the next few years, you’ll want to thin these stems to reduce crowding and maintain the size and shape of the shrub.
However, not all shrubs can tolerate this kind of pruning. Be sure that you know how a shrub will respond before you start cutting!
Which Shrubs Can Tolerate Rejuvenation Pruning?
Rejuvenation pruning works best on multi-stemmed, twiggy shrubs like spirea, dogwoods, and viburnums.
If a plant has only one main stem, don’t cut it down!
Plants that are stressed or in poor health (for example, during drought conditions or if they’re diseased or plagued by insect pests) may not survive. Let them recover before pruning.
And evergreen shrubs should never be treated this way. Cut them down to a stump and that’s all you’ll ever have – a stump.
To see or download a detailed list of shrubs that can be pruned this way, visit our Members area here >>
Why Rejuvenate a Shrub?
After several years without pruning, shrubs can begin to look misshapen or crowded, and have lots of older, unproductive wood (meaning that it doesn’t flower or have a lot of leaves). At this point, thinning just won’t do the job; it calls for more extreme measures.
By cutting a shrub to the ground, you “reset the clock” – the result is a smaller, younger plant that usually flowers more profusely and can be thinned as necessary to keep it looking its best.
For shrubs that are typically grown for their colorful stems, such as red-twig dogwood, rejuvenation pruning forces growth of new stems with much brighter color.
You also make an immediate impact on the landscape. That unsightly shrub is gone. Of course there’s nothing there except an ugly stump so consider how you could disguise it until the shrub grows back (perhaps you could use a container full of annuals placed in front of the stump until new stems appear).
When to Rejuvenate a Shrub
Timing is important. Prune at the wrong time and you’ll cause excessive stress to the plant.
In general, the best time to cut a shrub entirely to the ground is in early spring before new growth starts.
Rejuvenation is typically done only every three to five years, usually when the shrub starts to look overgrown or gangly. Cutting off all the stems and leaves is a huge stressor to the plant so it’s best not to do it too often or you’ll risk weakening the shrub, making it more susceptible to disease and pests.
How to Rejuvenate a Shrub
Get out your pruning saw and loppers. You’ll be cutting through some larger stems so be sure to make clean cuts with whichever tool you need. Torn bark and ragged cuts make easy access for disease and pests, and can lead to rot that kills off part (or all) of the shrub.
For larger shrubs, cut off branches first so you can easily reach the base of the plant.
How to Care for a Shrub After Renovation Pruning
Heavy pruning is stressful; the shrub will need extra care for at least the first growing season.
- Keep it well watered (especially in hot, dry weather)
- Fertilize if you have poor soil (a good, thick layer of well-rotted manure or compost is usually all that’s needed – synthetic fertilizers can force weak, spindly growth),
- Keep a close watch for pests or signs of disease (nip those in the bud quickly)
Limitations of Rejuvenation Pruning
While this is a very useful pruning technique for certain plants, it does have limitations.
Spring-flowering shrubs won’t bloom that year. And you’ll have a “hole” in your landscape where the shrub once stood. But the next year everything should be back to normal.
The condition of the shrub can affect how it responds. It’s probably best not to attempt rejuvenation pruning in the following situations:
- The shrub has a large, woody base and it extremely overgrown
- More than 1/3 of the shrub is made up of dead branches or stems with very little foliage.
- The shrub is more like a small tree, with only one or very few main stems (for example, some types of viburnum or euonymous).
Before you start pruning, check the base of the shrub. If there’s a weed blocking fabric or rock mulch, remove that first. These can interfere with new growth. If it’s been there for several years, you may want to do renewal pruning instead as plants in this kind of environment often have decreased root vigor and so may not grow back easily.
Finally, if you’re pruning a lilac cultivar, make sure that it’s not budded onto common lilac rootstock. If it is, don’t cut it to the ground; the regrowth will be from the rootstock, not the cultivar.
Now over to you – Have you tried rejuvenation pruning? What did you prune and how did it turn out? Let us know in the comments below!