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Pruning half-hardy shrubs

Get advice on pruning half-hardy shrubs in spring, including lavender, camellias and rhododendrons.

Mid-spring is the perfect time to prune half-hardy shrubs that have benefited from the protection provided by their top growth over winter. This old growth needs to be removed in spring to make way for new shoots.

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Half-hardy and borderline tender plants that benefit from being pruned in spring include Mediterranean favourites such as French lavender and cistus, as well as evergreen shrubs such as camellias.

Further south, you may be able to get away with pruning half-hardy shrubs in autumn, but if you’re unsure, the best policy is to leave them until spring. 

Here are some shrubs that can be pruned in mid spring.

Old growth needs to be removed in spring to make way for new shoots.

Lavender

Lavender can be pruned in April to keep it compact and to prevent it becoming woody. Look out for new green shoots appearing low down on the woody stems, below last year’s grey growth. These will usually appear in April, depending on the weather.

Gather a bunch of old flower stems in one hand, then roughly snip through them with secateurs, cutting back the plant by half to two thirds of its original size. Also cut back any long or awkward sections of stems to a healthy shoot. Aim to end up with an even dome shape. Lavender doesn’t grow well if you prune into old, woody growth, so avoid cutting too far down the old stems where there are no fresh green sprouts.

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Rhododendrons and camellias

Camellias and rhododendrons can grow into huge bushes that take up lots of space but produce few flowers. Encourage more flowers in spring by pruning them to reduce the overall size, but retain the shape.

As they start into growth in May, after the last frost, remove the stem tips. While the plant may be smaller, it’ll have proportionally more flowers.

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Cistus and convolvulus

Once established, borderline tender shrubs such as cistus and convolvulus, which don’t tend to put on vigorous growth, need little pruning apart from the removal of the stem tips in spring to keep the plant tidy. Also remove any dead shoot tips or those that have been damaged by frost.

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What else to prune

Abelia, abutilon, olearia and santolina can also be pruned in mid spring.