Hold the clippers during ungainly growing out

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Does this spruce look a bit shaggy to you? Feel the urge to use the clippers to make it neater? Resist that feeling! 

Big mistake: Shearing what you want to be natural

Evergreens are often sheared regularly while in production at commercial nurseries. "Buyers want chubby, thick plants," say the growers.

Some homeowners shear their evergreens into geometric shapes. "That looks best," they say.

Perhaps that's the case. However, if you intend to show the plant's natural habit in your garden or landscape, you will need patience. The newly purchased or long-sheared shrub must go through a rather ungainly comeback for two or more years to shed the shape enforced by shearing.

A client who admired the wide-spreading, feathery habit of Ward's yews (Taxus x media 'Wardii') was disappointed in what we bought and planted for her. "They're just ordinary dumpling shrubs!" So we explained what you'll read here. The next year, we visited to check the landscape's progress and found the yews taped off with yellow "Keep Out" caution tape. Our client explained, "You told me to let them grow but my husband wants to clip them in the worst way. This was the only way I could keep him away from them!"


The grow-back

The first year, a sheared evergreen's growth will probably be fairly even from all tips. One or more shoots at the top of the plant may break free and grow at something like the plant's normal rate for its dominant "leaders." Such shoots will look like "wild hairs" erupting from the plant's outline.

Let those wild hairs grow. To clip them is to prolong the plant's return to its natural growth habit.

The second year there will be more wild hairs. These will themselves branch in their second and subsequent years. By the third or fourth year, the new growth may begin to hide the plant's former outline.

Below: Now take a look at that same young spruce through expert eyes. We see it's well on its way to growing out of a shape (outlined in orange) that was imposed upon it by annual pruning at the nursery or Christmas tree farm.



With that orientation, can you see the sheared pine in this pine-breaking free?