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How to to prune — or not

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, March 3, 2013, 2:15 p.m.

If you are itching to get into the garden on a mild winter's day, you might want to grab a good pair of hand pruners and sharp loppers and go in search of a shrub to prune.

This is an adventure fraught with peril for the shrubs, but if you have a reasonable sense of what to do, you can improve the look, health and vigor of these garden stalwarts and control them.

How and when to prune a shrub depends on what it is. The golden rule: Better to do no pruning than to butcher the wrong shrub.

To Prune:

• Conservative pruning has health benefits for spring-blooming trees like dogwoods and redbuds, even if some of the April show will be lost.

• Crape myrtles can be pruned in the winter. Don't reduce them to stubs.

• Loppers offer a safe way into roses. Finish with pruners.

• Beautyberry bushes can be massive. Cut them back hard.

• Butterfly bushes also respond to a vigorous chop in winter.

Not to prune:

• Azaleas, pieris and viburnums set flower buds in summer. Pruning at this time would compromise their spring display.

• Leave hydrangeas alone except for light grooming in late April.

• Weeping Japanese maples require care and precision.

• Wait until after the forsythia blooms in mid-April, then prune old bushes hard.

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