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
1 rating

Tuesday - December 10, 2013

From: Pottsville, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Pruning, Shrubs
Title: Pruning buttonbush from Pottsville PA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

In a formally planted park, a small area has become swampy. I have choosen to plant it with wet tolerant native plants. I would appreciate any suggestions on pruning the buttonbush [Cephalanthus occidentalis] to fit into the setting and not become ragged.

ANSWER:

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Common buttonbush) is native to Schuylkill Co., PA as shown in this USDA Plant Profile Map. We always check on this first to make sure gardeners are not spending a lot of effort on a plant that cannot survive the environment where they are being grown. 

If you follow the plant link above to our webpage on this plant you will find these growing conditions:

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Cold Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Limestone-based, Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay
Conditions Comments: Common buttonbush is a spreading, multi-branched shrub or sometimes small tree with many branches (often crooked and leaning), irregular crown, balls of white flowers resembling pincushions, and buttonlike balls of fruit. Buttonbush is a handsome ornamental suited to wet soils and is also a honey plant. Ducks and other water birds and shorebirds consume the seeds."

In particular, notice the line: "Buttonbush is a handsome ornamental suited to wet soils and is also a honey plant." You have chosen this plant very well for the conditions you describe. Also on that page is this information: "Trunks are often twisted. Spreading, much-branched shrub or sometimes small tree with many branches (often crooked and leaning), irregular crown." You can see from the pictures below from our Image Gallery that the plant is capable of growing to a very full shape.

From the University of Connecticut Horticulture Department, mention is made of periodic "rejuvenation pruning" to avoid the plant becoming misshapen and out of control. From the Purdue University Department of Horticulture, please read this article about rejuvenation pruning

The conclusions from both of these academic articles is that pruning is better done on a regular annual basis. Since the plant is deciduous and you should prune woody plants (trees and shrubs) in cool weather, we would advise mentally noting or even loosely tied flags on points at which you plan to prune Although this is by nature a loosely growing shrub, we believe that regular annual maintenance will be better to keep it neat and appropriately sized than the cutting to the ground of rejuvenation pruning.

 

From the Image Gallery


Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

Common buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis

More Pruning Questions

Dealing with live oak suckers in Central Texas
March 05, 2015 - Hi, I have a couple huge Live Oak trees in my back yard. Trunks are 4' in diameter. These Live Oaks produce a lot of root sprouts/suckers. I had always head that a tree's roots feed on water/oxyg...
view the full question and answer

Dead portions on oak tree in Hutchinson KS
August 22, 2011 - I have an oak tree on the property I just moved into. One tree is healthy, the other has a dead side or almost dead. It did have some new green leaves on the dead branches but not many. What should...
view the full question and answer

When is the appropriate time to prune pecan trees in Hewitt?
September 07, 2008 - Labor Day Weekend my husband decided to trim all the low branches on a big pecan tree in our back yard which I thought should had been done at the first of the year, our temprature is in the mid 90's...
view the full question and answer

Trimming of turkscap
November 16, 2009 - I have a Mexican Turk's cap, it is in its second year of growth and is doing well. However, I feel a need to prune it? do I need to?
view the full question and answer

Blackfoot daisy declining in Austin
September 04, 2010 - My Blackfoot Daisies have grown large, bushy, have bloomed well over the past two summers. Now parts of the plants are drying up, dying. Will pruning out the dead parts help the plants to survive, or ...
view the full question and answer

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