What is the Best Time to Trim Evergreen Shrubs?

Evergreen shrubs and hedges have offered privacy and verdant beauty to backyards the world over for as long as any of us can remember.

Though they are hardy, tough and beautiful plants, they will require maintenance to keep them looking good and growing properly. With maintenance, timing is everything, which makes us ask the question – what is the best time to trim your shrubs?

Part of timing your trimming right is figuring out what kind of shrubs you have. Evergreen shrubbery breaks down into two main categories: broadleaf and needle-bearing.

Needle-Bearing Shrubs and Trimming

Needle-bearing evergreen shrubs include such species as yew, Canadian hemlock, and arborvitae. Such shrubs should be trimmed sometime in the early spring before new growth begins. Doing this will give the new shoots a chance to “breathe” and grow, develop, and form a solid wood base before winter comes along.

Broadleaf Shrubs and Trimming

Broadleaf shrubs are a bit trickier than their needle-bearing cousins. Broadleaf shrubs come in a vast variety of species, too, including holly, azaleas, and boxwood.

While certain broadleaf shrubs could benefit from being trimmed in the early spring, the species can sometimes dictate when it would be best to break out your favorite chainsaw and pruning shears.

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Let’s say you have a holly plant by your walkway. On one hand, the berries and foliage itself are beautiful and make for lovely yuletide decorations, so you’ll want to produce as much of them as you possibly can. On the other hand, the berries, when squashed, create a black smudge that can be difficult to clean off of any surface. To save yourself the hassle while giving you enough room to grow ample berries and leaves. The best time to trim holly is in the winter of every other year.

If you have a plant like an azalea, as another example, it’s best to wait until after the flowers have fallen off to trim the plant back. This not only ensures you will give the plant time and space to grow new branches and flowers, but you will also get plenty of use out of the flowers growing in for that year.

How to Trim Your Shrubs

Generally speaking, there are two types of people who approach shrub trimming for their very first time. The first type of person is gung ho, wanting to hack and slash everything in sight until the shrub is deemed tame. The other type is – forgive the plant pun – a shrinking violet, hesitant to take away even the slightest bit of unruliness.

With care and the right cuts, though, anyone can master their shrubs. Make your cuts at a 45-degree angle and roughly a ¼ of an inch above the closest bud. The shears, knife or other cutting instruments should be clean and sharp so the shrub can heal as quickly as possible.

When you cut, be sure you’re not cutting away more than about a third of the plant’s size. Cutting more may actually kill the plant over time, if not from starving it by cutting away its ability to make food than by disease invited by its many cuts. Overcutting doesn’t kill the plant directly, but the side effects and consequences of cutting away too much could kill it over time.

If you find you have trimmed too much, there isn’t much you can do. Be sure to fertilize the shrub appropriately and water it. Since the leaves are damaged or entirely gone, it’s important the tree is fed and hydrated especially well as it has a lot of recovering to do. With a lot of time, patience, and care, you could bring your shrub back.

What To Do if Your Shrub is Overgrown

Overgrowth is a fairly common problem in shrubs and plants of all kinds, especially if you’re moving into an older home and the garden hasn’t been cared for in a while. The best way to tame a shrub of significant overgrowth is the same way you would go about eating a huge meal; paced and one bite at a time.

Silly analogy aside, it’s important to take care when trimming down an overgrown shrub. Even if they’re unruly, they should be treated in the same way as any other shrub. This means using sharp, clean tools, pruning at the right time of year, etc.

While you should take care not to cut too much of the overgrowth away at a time, it’s important to take out branches that look diseased and damaged. Keep an eye on your work to make sure the shrub doesn’t get out of shape or lopsided.

Keep in mind these are general rules; it’s a good idea to really research the exact species your shrub is to be certain your shrub is healthy and thriving.

When the Growing Season Ends

When the growing season finally comes to a close, it’s a good idea to mulch around your shrubs. Mulch provides an insulating layer that keeps moisture and warmth before winter comes. Keep mulch away from the stem of the shrub and build a gradually thicker layer as you move out toward your landscaping’s boundaries.

When winter ends, you can replace the mulch with a fresh coat and the growing season starts all over again in the spring!

There’s plenty to remember when it comes to maintaining your shrubs and landscaping plants. The good news is there are resources for almost every type of shrub out there and just as many people who have a passion for making their landscapes look their best. Take your work on your shrubs one step at a time, and in no time, you’ll have the yard you’ve always dreamed of!

What are some of your favorite shrub care tips others may not know? What kind of shrubs and plants do you like for your yard? What projects are you working on this year? Let us know in the comments below.

Resources – The Spruce, This Old House, Gardening Know How, Gardenista, Popular Mechanics, HGTV