Renewal Pruning

Renewal pruning is a term that some people may not be familiar with. Plants that have been neglected for long periods of time can become too overgrown to prune. Renewal pruning gives overgrown, uncared for plants a new life. Drastically cutting back the plant’s size provides an opportunity for a fresh start at a healthy, fruitful life.

We will cover the following topics:

  • Does my plant need renewal pruning
  • How to perform renewal pruning
  • What to expect after pruning
  • Does it always work

Hopefully, you can enter your garden with a sense of new found confidence after reading this article. You will be fully equipped to tackle that massive pruning job you’ve been avoiding. Follow these steps with confidence, have fun, and enjoy a new garden. (Pictures of a real project will be coming!!)

Does my plant need renewal pruning

After reading the intro, you may be thinking, “Renewal pruning sounds like the exact thing my plants need!” Sometimes, plants only need a little bit of attention in order to go a long way. In most scenarios, renewal pruning is a last resort effort. Here are the signs you should look for to determine if plants in your landscape will benefit from a renewal pruning.

Neglected or overgrown

Plants that have been neglected or become terribly overgrown have no other option other than renewal pruning. When people purchase a new house, it is common for plants to be way larger than ever intended. I’m sure you can envision a home with a hedge growing well past the top of the window frames. When plants have been free to grow for so long that their structure resembles a tangled ball of yarn, it is time to do drastic renewal pruning. 

Little to no flowering

Lack of flower production is another sign that it is time for extreme measures. When plants become overgrown, there is not enough energy to sustain the plant AND produce beautiful blossoms. If your azaleas or hydrangeas, that used to produce beautiful flowers year after year, are only baring a flower here and there, cutting them back aggressively will breath new life into their blooms.   

Hyper crowded growth

Hyper crowded growth goes hand in hand with neglect and overgrowth. If you notice several scraggly stems all protruding from around the same point, there is no other solution aside from removing that portion of the plant. When the plant becomes plagued with several overcrowded points, there is only so much removal that a gardener can do before it turns into a renewal pruning. 

Accumulating dead wood

Copious amounts of deadwood is the last symptom to look for. A lot of times the deadwood will be interwoven with the new growth of the plant. Deadwood clogs the flow of air through the plant. Poor air circulation invites fungus and disease to make their home in your garden. Additionally, deadwood, as the name implies, is dead and produces no new growth. 

Not all plants that need renewal pruning will have all 5 of these symptoms. Likewise,  there are ways around these conditions if only one or two problems exist. In the end, most plants are very hardy. Make the decision that your gut tells you. In many cases, the plants will bounce back stronger than ever after a new season of growth. 


How to perform renewal pruning

Renewal pruning involves making a select few DRASTIC cuts. In many cases, branches will be pruned to a few inches above ground level, and the height of the plant will be reduced by about 2/3 or more! Many cuts involve severing the main stems of the plant and removing large portions at a time. 

Renewal pruning is best when performed between mid autumn and early spring, when plants are dormant. However, the pruning can take place at anytime if absolutely necessary. 

Proper renewal pruning follows 4 stages:

  1. Remove any dead or diseased wood
  2. Reduce the number of old stems by 1/2, cutting them ass close to the ground as possible
  3. Shorten the remaining branches to 1/2 of their length, cutting to the closest bud or side shoot
  4. Remove or shorten any remaining side shoots that are growing across the center of the plant structure or are rubbing/resting on other branches

What to expect after pruning

The result immediately after a dramatic pruning like this can be unnerving. Seeing your landscape reduced to a bed of stumps has a jarring effect. However, pruning encourages vigorous new growth. You will see your plants regenerate with proper form. 

Just as normal maintenance pruning encourages growth, renewal pruning also encourages new growth. In fact, the regrowth after renewal pruning is even more rapid and pronounced. You will see new shoots emerging from the nubs and stumps the very next season! However, most plants will not produce flowers in the season immediately following an aggressive pruning. Do not be alarmed if your shrubs do not flower in the spring, like normal. They will produce magnificent blossoms in the following year. 

Your plants will also grow back with a fresh and proper form. Now that their centers are open and allow air and light to flow freely throughout the plant, it is critical that this shape is maintained. As the plant grows back more and more each year, make it a special point to stay on top of regular maintenance pruning. 


Does it always work

In some cases, plants are past the point of no return. Plants that are sick, old, or undergoing outside stressors, will usually react negatively to a drastic renewal pruning.

Sickly or diseased plants will not regrow properly in many cases. A lot of times, the disease will reinfect the plant and take advantage of it in this more vulnerable state. Plants that are totally overwhelmed by disease are better replaced. This also stops the spread of disease to otherwise healthy plants.

Plants, like humans, have a finite life. Plants that have been around for 30, 40, or even 50+ years are sometimes at the end of their rope. If you know that a plant is extremely old, it is probably in your best interest to simply replace the plant. Plants that are of emotional or sentimental value can be propagated from cuttings so that when the end of the plant’s life does arrive, it will have an exact DNA replica to replace it. 

Plants undergoing immense outside stress is the last group of plants that will not respond favorably to renewal pruning. Things like extreme heat, drought, or insect infestations will typically spell disaster for a plant about to undergo a drastic pruning. These environmental factors have to be controlled or overcome before renewal pruning can take place.  

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