Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - February 02, 2011

From: Pflugerville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Trees
Title: Pruning dogwood in TX
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I have a roughleaf dogwood (Cornus drummondii) sapling that I would like to keep at shrub height (~6 ft) rather than let it form a tree. Can I encourage this by cutting the main trunk, and if so, by how much should I prune it? It is currently about 4 ft. tall and has several stems, with the central one taller than the others.

ANSWER:

Yes, you can ... BUT ... there are a number of things you need to consider before you head out with your loppers.

You will have to realize that you are committing yourself to an ongoing project.  You can alter the growth habit of a plant but it can require a lot of work (i.e. topiary, bonsai and espalier).  Some people like to call it "hortitorture" but you can achieve something more natural by using pruners and not shears.

Keep in mind that "pruning stimulates growth" and that new growth will emerge from the outermost bud that you leave.  You can direct the new growth, and shape of the shrub, by selecting which buds to leave and which to remove. Dogwoods will usually put out more than one branch at the node where you prune them.  So if you cut about a foot off a single stem that is four feet tall, the result will be a three foot stem with two or more twigs sticking out from it.  This can lead to an effect like an arm with a bunch of fingers spread out at the end, or a "witch's broom".

That means you should go easy.  Look at each of your stems (the central one is larger because it produces hormones that inhibit the growth of the others) and decide where you want to cut off each of them to create branching. You can cut some of them close to the ground or cut them off completely.  Once your plant reaches the height where you would like it to stay, you will have to cut some growth off every season. If you cut them at various lengths, it will be easier to maintain the plant's casual look.  Otherwise you will end up with a "green meatball". 

Check out this link Cornus drummondii (Roughleaf dogwood) to our database entry and look at the images of more mature plants.  You can see that they are a result of pruning off all but a couple of stems and then letting them mature.  You can imagine what the plant looked like when it was small.

My father always says "measure twice and cut once".  It's a good rule to follow when pruning plants.  Before I cut, I put my hand where the cut will be and try to visualize what the plant will look like with that part of it gone forever.  It does grow back, but not like hair! There is a great article (with illustrations) on pruning shrubs on the Purdue Extension website that you will find helpful. Also check out the numerous articles on eHow.com about Pruning Dogwoods.

 

From the Image Gallery


Roughleaf dogwood
Cornus drummondii

Roughleaf dogwood
Cornus drummondii

Roughleaf dogwood
Cornus drummondii

More Trees Questions

Trees and shrubs turning brown in Dripping Springs TX
October 31, 2011 - Due to the extended drought - a number of trees and shrubs in our Dripping Springs area property have turned brown. Specifically: Live Oak; Agarita; Ash Juniper; Cedar Elm. Is this a dormant stag...
view the full question and answer

Need help with a Pecan tree that has been topped in Austin, TX.
July 06, 2010 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants! I have a pecan tree on my property that was topped by the previous owners. I have searched high and low for information on how to correctly prune a tree that has already been ...
view the full question and answer

Native Trees for Pflugerville TX
September 28, 2013 - I'm looking for suggestions on native, drought tolerant conifers that can be located in a Pflugerville landscape under overhead electric lines. Open to Arizona Cypress, but concerned about the height...
view the full question and answer

Should a tree near a water well be transplanted?
July 31, 2013 - I have a water well and have about a 6 yr live oak planted in close proximity to it( about 10 feet). Would it be wise enough to transplant the tree while its this young or leave it alone. Also I need ...
view the full question and answer

Trees poisonous to horses from Landrum SC
April 15, 2012 - Please tell me if the following trees are poisonous to horses: hickory, beech, poplar, and redbud. Thank you very much.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.