Spring Pruning The Barber vs. The Stylist

The snow has melted, the birds are chirping, and the sun is out. That can only mean one thing… spring is finally here! My buds are set, and I am ready to show off my brilliant yellow flowers that bloom along my long, wispy branches. Can you guess what I am?

Chances are, no. Unfortunately for me and you, I am often not taken care of in a way that allows me to show off what I am truly capable of. I am hacked at with shears and forced into hedge rows and shapes that cause me to lose my natural form. This, in turn, reduces, sometimes removing altogether, the flowering potential that I work tirelessly all summer to build. For these reasons, I am often seen with yellow flowers near the end of my branches and dead limbs sometimes consuming half of my overall growth. Any clues as to what I am? Maybe this will help…a spring flowering shrub with brilliant yellow coloring. If you haven’t figured out what I am now, I’ll give it to you. I am a Forsythia shrub! I bloom on new wood, in early spring, and have a beautiful yellow flower that blooms along my long, natural arching, wispy branches even before I develop my leaves.

Me, along with most other flowering shrubs, are neglected in the ways of pruning. We get our branches cut off as if it were a barber shaving a man’s head, instead of a hairstylist that layers in just the right spots to enhance the natural buoyancy and beauty of an individual’s hair.

So, what are the differences between the barber and the hairstylist? Well, the barber prefers the shearing method. They use long pruning tools, or power pruners to make non-selective cuts. This method works wonders on shrubs meant to be formed into hedgerows or shapes. However, to the wrong plant that isn’t meant to be sheared into those shapes, it can cause detrimental effects to the shrub. Shearing can leave dead limbs that had their only viable buds cut off, while also leaving entrance wounds for diseases and pathogens to enter our immune system. So, not only are you, as the barber, cutting off our buds that we work day and night to develop, but you are also leaving us vulnerable to disease and pest infestation that could potentially stop us from growth and bud production altogether. That in turns leaves you with two things; a dead shrub to remove, and a lack of beauty in your landscape.

Now, let me explain to you the method of the hairstylist, preferred by us shrubs; selective pruning. This is done by hand, not by power pruners or shearing pruners. But rather with hand tools that allow you to make more selective cuts, getting closer to the buds, leaving behind minimal dead tissue, and wounds that I can heal before they become infested with diseases or pathogens. Thinning out the dead, diseased, or damaged branches allows me to be rid of those pathogens that can infest my whole structure, while also giving me room to breathe. Air circulation Is just as important to me as it is to you. I need the airflow to prevent me from pathogens like powdery mildew, as well as pests like slugs. Thinning branches also allows sunlight to reach from the tips of my branches to the lowest bud. Sunlight is necessary not only to me but also to you as the one who gets to enjoy the fruits of my labor. The deeper down the sunlight reaches, the more of my buds get the change to grow and develop, leading to full flowers and leaves not only at the tips of my branches but all the way down to the base of my growth.

So, after hearing my side of things, I would like to ask you… are you a barber, or a hairstylist?