Sheared shrubs creep

How does it happen that shrubs we cut and cut, still get bigger?

Look inside this boxwood with us. One branch tells the whole story.
(The complete story of this particular boxwood is at Boxwood pruning.)

We've sketched one branch from this shrub to the right of the photo to help you see what we see. Cross our fingers, it tells the tale but in case it doesn't, there is more text below.

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1) Green arrows: The newest growth has two places where it has branched out. That means it was nipped twice while soft and while its natural response was to branch from the point of injury. Each time those cuts were made, a little of the new growth was left above the older wood. There was a total of 3" of creep.

2) Black arrows: When we look down along the branch we've sketched for you, we see regular occurrences of that branching pattern -- nipped, branched, nipped branched. There was almost the same amount of creep each year and this has been happening for all five this shrub's years on site. We'd say that means the same gardener's been doing the work, except that we see this same tendency everywhere. That is, no one wants to cut hard -- to cut into the harder, twiggier growth.

3) Blue arrow: When we make our thinning cuts we'll cut out thick branches -- about 20% of the branches, or 1 in 5. We'll cut at the blue arrow or lower. Usually lower! Every branch we cut will have 2- to 5 years to grow before we take it out again and every year before that time its greenery will be new and relatively soft inside the shrubs outline.

Thinning makes shearing easier

The gardener who thins makes the shearing easier because there are fewer heavy, densely branched limbs up at the outer edge. We can cut back without worrying, "Oh, look at all that bare wood left showing, I hope it re-grows!"

We shear to the same level every year -- three inches below the windowsill, for instance, or hip high. We choose the line based on how much the shrub grows -- we want to prune it once in early spring or in August and then let it grow all season. It will be healthier and more attractive and we have les work to do. This year we'll shear this shrub to remove everything spanned by the green arrows.

Deciding which limbs to thin

We decide which branches to cut out based on the "pat method" -- we pat the shrub's surface to feel for the stiffest wood. This helps us find and remove the branches that have been sheared most times. This not only makes the shearing easier. It lets light reach tips still growing up from the interior from our previous years' thinning cuts.

(Note: We usually thin first, shear second. We describe the steps in opposite order to encourage those just learning this technique to shear first before thinning. Come to a Garden By Janet & Steven and prune with us and we'll help your hands learn why that's the easier way to learn.)





























Pam Peterson

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