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What other shrubs can be cut back hard?

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#1 Janet Macunovich

Janet Macunovich


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Posted 04 April 2012 - 02:15 PM

D.D. asked by email

Can I cut my rose of Sharon shrub? I love the bloom and I don't want to kill it but it's 10 feet tall and overpowering everything.

You can cut it as hard as you like any time from late fall to early spring and it will come back strong and bloom well, so long as it was healthy to begin with.

We always tell people that just about any deciduous shrub will come back from a hard cut. Those that bloom in spring, you may lose a year's bloom after a hard cut. Those that bloom after mid-summer each year will probably still bloom after a hard cut. (Blue- and pink hydrangeas and some of the beautyberry/Callicarpa species are exceptions.)

Many evergreens will "break" from bare wood, too. (NOT junipers, arborvitaes, pines, spruces, firs).

Anyone want to share any tips or stories about hard cuts? Proof of the rule, exceptions, corrections, fun stories or mistakes to avoid?

Here's a rose of Sharon I just cut back, before and after my work. I used the branches as stakes around a peony.
RoseSharB4CutN3942s.jpg RoseSharCutN4071s.jpg

Sure it blooms. I cut this bush every year, yet you saw the seed pods on its branches "before."

#2 Janet Macunovich

Janet Macunovich


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Posted 15 March 2016 - 07:56 AM

J.G. then asked:

My neighbor has a rose of sharon that has grown tall and leggy. I would like to prune it when it is done flowering. Is that a good time to prune and how much do I cut it back? It has been there a while and I'm concerned that if I cut it back too much, it will die like mine did.


Also, any harm done cutting back my smoke bush and black lace elderberry? When?



If a rose of sharon dies it's not from being cut. No worries there. But if the shrub is in less than great situation and has been let go a long time without being cut, then it may not be able to sprout from the base. We dug out one old rose of sharon one time but left its mate in a shady dry place, removing the one because two was really one too many for the space. Then we cut the remaining plant back figuring if it sprouted new, fine, if it didn't then we were just several minutes' saw work closer to replacing it with something better for shade.

The shrub we removed, we first cut back to nearly nothing, for ease in handling. The dug-out stump we left sitting in the sunny compost area a while. It started to sprout! The one we left in its original position, no roots mauled, never sprouted.

So if conditions aren't great, don't simply cut back, improve the conditions, too.


You can cut rose of sharon back in early spring, which may be the best time to stimulate new shoots right from the base. Right after bloom, in late summer, the light and temperature and moisture are not aligned to prompt that kind growth so the plant may not do much in response.


I know the old sayings are to cut plants back right after bloom but that's meant to help us keep the best show going on spring bloomers, most of which will not bloom that year if we cut them in spring before bloom. However, if we're eager to cut back for a fresh start or we don't really care about flowers, we cut in early spring before budbreak anyway. We know and accept it means giving up one year's bloom.


You can cut elderberry hard. We usually do it in early spring, which means we lose the bloom... No worries on our part because more than half the time we're growing elderberry (Sambucus varieties) more for the foliage -- the purple, lacy, gold, or cream-variegated kind -- than for flowers. If we want to keep the shrubs young -- important for elderberry -- and enjoy both foliage and bloom, then we cut out half the canes at ground level every early spring, cut the others right after bloom.


You can cut smokebush (Cotinus species) but keep in mind that there's no getting around the fact that this species becomes a wild thing after a cut. It's truly a hard plant to train into a given shape because every cut results in multiple long canes coming from the cut. Sometimes smokebush' new canes will grow 6 feet or more in one year. We do cut them all the time (because we want to keep the plant smaller than 15-20', and/or want the foliage to be big and deep colored, and don't mind sacrificing the poofy blooms) and make the cut in late winter or early spring.

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