That goes for lavender, roses, butterfly bush, too.
This is a must-cover topic for this week. So many people cut too
timidly when they make their spring cuts to roses, butterfly bush, hydrangea, rose
of Sharon, evergreen herbs like the lavender and sage we use as illustrations, and most any woody
Even a single healthy bud can grow lustily if it's driven by a
strong root system. On the other hand, nothing good comes from cuts
that left weak wood in place. Often the results are disappointing
and also lead to further decline in the plant's health.
If the plant's struggling, all the more reason to be
There's lots of cutting to do in early spring so take this crash
course to recognize sound wood. Then go
cut harder. Remove everything that's not sound wood so healthy
buds are in charge and disease pathogens removed.
This page Sponsored by (and thank goodness!):
(Steven we still need a good lead
perhaps the hummingbird at the sage?)
the odd notes you may see here.)
Lavender as an example of itself, and of roses, dogwoods and
Below: Lavender before and after its yearly cut back. Yes it
will still bloom. Better than otherwise. Many of the hybrid roses
we cut back look like this. They are there, then gone. They grow
well and bloom fully in the same year they're reduced to
What you see below is what was left after our first cut to
two 24" round lavenders. We made even more cuts afterward to remove
Why do we cut it this hard? For the plant's own good and so
it will bloom more fully and be more dense of leaf.
Look at the difference between stems. The two stems at the
left are healthy, fuller of leaf, and have a smaller proportion of
shriveled leaves from the winter. The stem on the far right is in
poor shape. Middle stems are intermediate. (Photo
Look at those stems up close.
Start with the old stem on the right in that photo.
See any discoloration and splits? In lavender bark, that's not
normal, not healthy. Those spots develop where the cambium has been
killed and so bark stopped forming. Each patch of dead cambium is a
break in the connection between leaves and roots. It means a little
less starch flowing to the roots, which cannot produce their own
food and depend on the leaves.
Starved roots die. Then the foliage
receives less water when times get tough. Such plants often
wilt and die back in chunks during summer's worst heat.
Below: This wood is decrepit
(two arrowspoint to splits) but has not quit. It has not
stopped producing new shoots.
Several buds are swelling (one indicated by arrow). These
buds will not produce such vigorous shoots as buds from wood that's
intact. What a shame to have these grow and then die by
So cut this stem right
Right: The lower portion of a
stem from the middle bunch in our group shot.
Wood that has unhealthy breaks in the bark was usually
infected when young, soft, barkless shoot. The fungi became a
chronic infection, remaining as the bark and wood form. What is
called a "spot" when it's on leaf or green stem becomes a "canker"
on wood. As long as the branch lives and environmental conditions
allow the fungus to live, the canker grows and makes the stem ever
weaker. The fungi involved in this case are probably unable to
attack the plant in its Mediterranean homeland, where dry
conditions prevail throughout the growing season.
Above: Comparing that stem from the middle group to a
youngster from the left group. Younger stem on left in this
So we cut
hard... even and especially roses!
This is why we cut many shrubs and vines every year to remove
old wood and have as much brand new wood as possible. We cut them
very hard if they bloom on new wood, grow quickly and have any
tendency to fungal diseases.
How gardeners treat hybrid tea roses is a bugaboo of ours. The
canes harbor black spot spores and a can may itself be weakened by
cankers and also borers, yet a gardener will let that weak branch
remain because it has a bud.
Be ruthless, for the plant's own good. Cut it so its new shoots
come from only the best wood. Don't worry that you're pruning after
buds on the branches have already begun to grow. If the root system
is healthy new buds will come from below your cut. (Take a look at
it happening, in Mentors advice for cutting Weak wood
Cut back cooking sage
This is what we expect from cooking sage (Salvia
officinalis) after winter. It should look like this or better
-- even fuller.
Below: Sometimes, however, a sage looks like this. Look
hard, sage is there. Much of it died out last summer but its outer
branches had layered and rooted. What was left was a ring of stems
with an empty center.
Below: Can you see what's left of the remnant center, right
after we cut it and the living stems? (Look at it larger, and look for the
remnant, decrepit trunk bases.)
(Janet, we need to modify these with
arrows or circles or something! Re: odd notes)
Below: Here's what we have seen people leave uncut on such a
plant, because "I can't cut the poor thing completely
Yet that's a dying trunk, full of a stem rot. Any growth
that comes from that point is weak and only going to get weaker as
the temperature increases. It'll wilt and collapse in midsummer, if
it makes it that far.
Below: All this trouble starts with infections on new, soft
shoots. See the canker that develops from that that fungal
The more years the canker's there, the weaker the stem. The more
cankered stems there are, the more spores to infect new growth.
If a plant is going to come back from a cut back, let it come
with healthy shoots, or not at all.
Try it. Let the plants surprise you. Cut that rose back
hard and be rid of most of the black spot spores
that overwintered on its canes. Cut the butterfly bush or blue mist
spirea hard. Let the plants amaze you. Or, if the plants don't
bounce back, admit that they were not well to begin with. Then,
when you buy a replacement of that same kind, improve the drainage
or the sun or both in that spot, so the new one has a fighting
This Sponsorship came in the nick of
time for US,
so we decided to make sure we get this
time-sensitive article done for the first week of April
when the world goes outdoors to cut!
To read more of our Sponsor-recommended