Do's and don'ts of summer pruning


I’ve had many readers ask about pruning protocol for the early summer. If it is blooming right now, let your plant be the star of the show.

And it is time for the butterfly bush to show off.

Buddleja davidii is an easy shrub to grow and it will produce lots of blooms for you as long as you prune it at the right time. Butterfly bush is making the transition into full bloom right now. It produces thousands of blooms that cascade in the long cone shape at the tip of each stem.

This deciduous bloomer can grow up to 18 feet tall if you don’t keep it in check. It can grow into a thick bush and become so dense that it seems to be overcrowded. hen it is time to do some thinning.

Pruning makes it stronger, but you need to start in the early spring. When the new shoots start to emerge, it is a good time to cut out anything that looks broken or damaged. Then cut everything else until you only see three or four buds left on the stem. Each stem will be about a 12 inches long.

Look for the oldest branches and cut them back first. And since you have started the pruning process before the plant’s big growth spurt, it will start to push out even more blooms in the summer and early fall. Some of my readers say they cut it almost to the ground and have had a lot of luck with it pushing out a new flush of growth every season. Other readers swear that they don’t touch their butterfly bush and are happy with its growth.

But if you have limited space in your garden and want to keep it in shape, you need to prune it every year. If you keep it in shape, it will get bigger and better blooms.

For a natural shapely guide, just look at the buds. The bud at the end of the branch is called the terminal bud or the apical bud. It is where most of the growth chemicals are working hard to produce a blossom. The side buds are called laterals or auxiliary buds. Some grow directly opposite each other on the branch and other plants will produce alternating buds. Look for this bud. It points in the direction the leaf, flower or branch will grow. If you want it to grow in the direction it is pointing, leave it. If it will grow in the wrong direction, clip it off.

Remove the terminal bud on the end of the branch and it will cause the plant to spread instead of get longer. This is good if your bush is looking thin. If you are looking for length for a trellis or pergola, nip off the lateral buds to give your plant some yardage. If your plant has opposite buds and needs some shaping, make a straight cut about an inch above a healthy set of buds. If it is an alternate budding plant, make a diagonal cut about an inch above a bud at the same angle.

You might not be able to prune the butterfly bush right now, but you can nip away at the plants that just finished blooming. Spring bloomers like lilacs, forsythia, magnolia, honeysuckle, crab apple, wegelia, and wisteria are ready for some routine maintenance.

Later in June and early July is a good time to prune fragrant blooming shrubs like mock orange or the broad leaf evergreens such as rhododendron and azalea. And if you count on shrubs such as holly or viburnum to fill in the gaps from late summer until late fall, you need to prune them into shape in the mid to late summer.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at