Contact Us Host an Event 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 Pruning Questions

Spanish Dagger plant interfering with walkway in Ingram TX
April 09, 2010 - I have a Spanish Dagger that is now 8 feet tall and about to fall over in a walkway. Due to the danger of these very sharp tips I need to either cut down the plant or try to root in and replant. If ...
view the full question and answer

Cutting back a Rhododendron in Maryland
June 17, 2015 - I have a planting of six shrubs across the front of my house (alternating azalea & rhododendron). All have died except for one huge rhody & a small azalea next to it. Can I cut the huge rhody back to ...
view the full question and answer

Sun loving plants for flower bed by the pool in Weatherford Texas
October 03, 2011 - We have a 40' long x 2 1/2' wide flowerbed along our pool. It is in full sun with the pool deck across the front and a 6' privacy fence across back. Also, the level of the bed is 18" below the l...
view the full question and answer

Runaway growth on mountain laurel in Coolidge AZ
July 01, 2010 - I have 2 mountain laurels. They are thriving well. In fact one is growing way too fast. I am growing it as a tree, but the branches are in excess of 6 feet, while the trunk is only 18 or so inches. I ...
view the full question and answer

Non-native Podocarpus macrophyllus in Ft Worth TX
November 12, 2011 - I know this question does not pertain to a native plant but I've spent too much time not finding an answer to my question. I have many mature Podocarpus macrophyllus bushes at my house I purchased in...
view the full question and answer

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