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Pruning Perennials

With summer ending, and fall just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about some of the end of the growing season maintenance that needs to be done on your outdoor perennials. 

Make sure you know when your perennials set their floral buds before you prune, and remember, selective cuts!

Pruning and training are very important topics/skills/arts, and fall is a common time when much of this is done.  However, you would do best to understand your plants well before you go hacking away at something like that overgrown Lilac that is dominating your yard if you want flowers from it next year.
Close to the heart of this topic is the buds that form at the nodes on your plants.  These buds can be vegetative, giving rise to branches, leaves, and vines.  The buds can also be floral buds, giving rise to flowers and fruit.

It is common for many plants to form their flowering buds over the course of a season to bloom during that season.  Some plants though, like Lilac bush’s and Magnolia trees, will form their floral buds during summer and wait until the following spring to bloom.  If you prune a Lilac in the fall, you will have considerably less blooms next spring.  The best time to prune something that forms floral buds like this would be right after it finishes up flowering in the spring, so it will have the rest of summer to set its floral buds.  The pruning will also stimulate new growth around the areas that had been cut.

When pruning, if you want a healthy, good-looking plant, it is critical that you make selective cuts, not unselective.  Loppers are better suited for trimming Lilac rather than garden-shears.  When you are making selective cuts, aim just above a node, leaving a little bit of growth above the node so the buds do not get damaged or dry out.  Any growth above the topmost bud on a branch that has been cut, will die back to that node, and sometimes to the node below it.

If you want to avoid disappointing blooms or yields, make sure you know when your perennials set their floral buds before you prune, and remember, selective cuts!