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  • Writer's pictureJohn Chapin

Pruning Spring-Blooming Shrubs

It’s been a beautiful spring in Central Indiana, with spectacularly blooming magnolias, redbuds, dogwoods, flowering cherries, azaleas, and lilacs. So far, we’ve been fortunate to not have had any late freezes to ruin the floral parade. With plentiful rains, this looks to be a great year for gardeners.

Years ago, I planted some Dwarf Korean Lilacs for a lady who didn’t have room for the larger-growing French Lilacs. She was delighted with the lush spring display of fragrant purple blooms that literally covered the shrubs from top to bottom, as even young, small Dwarf Lilacs bloom heavily. Although “dwarf” compared to French Lilacs, which mature at 10-12’, Dwarf Lilacs can grow to 5-6’ tall and wide in ten years. Fortunately, they can be

pruned back, even severely, to keep them at a size fitting for the space.

About four years after planting the Dwarf Lilacs for the lady, she contacted me lamenting that her lilacs had very sparse blooms that spring. Without even needing to pay her a visit, I was 99% positive I knew what had happened. Sure enough, because her lilacs had grown higher than her windows, her adult son had pruned them back the previous fall. In doing so, he had pruned off nearly all of the flower buds that had formed earlier that


It’s very important to remember that pruning any spring-blooming shrubs needs to be done as soon as possible after the blooms fade. This goes for dwarf lilacs, fothergillas, azaleas, PJM rhododendrons, spireas, magnolias, viburnums, flowering crabapples and cherries, deutzias, forsythias, and flowering quince. All of these popular spring-flowering plants will set their flower buds by mid-summer, poised to bloom the following spring.

Following my advice, the next spring the lady was treated once again to her lilacs covered in blooms.

Happy gardening!

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