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Mr. Smarty Plants - Pruning a rough-leaf dogwood in spring

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Friday - May 04, 2012

From: Kerrville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pruning, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Pruning a rough-leaf dogwood in spring
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Is it OK to trim a rough leaf dogwood now? Should I spray after trimming? Thanks

ANSWER:

I am including here for your consideration an answer Mr. Smarty Plants wrote to a previous question about pruning a Cornus drummondii (Roughleaf dogwood):

"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."

This long but thoughtful response was written in answer to a question submitted in February.  Spring and summer are definitely not good seasons for pruning; it should be done while the tree/shrub is dormant in winter.  I do not know of any spray that would counteract the stress of pruning at this time.  So I suggest that you reconsider or at least wait until winter.  A little light pruning now, such as removing the flowers or developing berries, would not hurt the plant (although that would be destroying a good food source for wildlife).  Or cutting away suckers that tend to form around the base of the tree would not be harmful.  But this small tree has such a distinctive shape that I feel it would be a shame to alter it.  Maintaining the attractive growth habit of the dogwood, as shown in the attached image, is something worth seriously considering.

 

From the Image Gallery


Roughleaf dogwood
Cornus drummondii

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