Shape up your plants

This possum haw could use some thinning out to encourage height.

This time of year always makes me smile, watching all the commercials about shaping up and getting fit, joining a gym, or trying the latest “eating healthy” plan. I’ve heard it is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, but a month later, the excitement and/or momentum is all but gone.

The kind of shaping up and thinning I recommend is fairly quick, painless and should last the whole year. Now is a great time to prune and reshape almost anything in your yard.

By almost, I mean do NOT prune or reshape any spring-blooming shrubs or trees, unless you feel it is absolutely necessary to correct any freeze or wind damage. But any other plants should be safe for shaping. For example, my Bridal Wreath desperately needs pruning. I should have done it last summer after it bloomed, but I didn’t. Now I am choosing to let it look scruffy until this summer because I just love the pure white blooms it will show if I leave it alone for now.

Due to the recent brutally cold weather, there are no leaves left to hide the summer growth. It’s easy to see a definite shape or growth pattern. With upcoming spring growth, you’ll have an idea if there is room for a plant to continue as it is.

To start shaping up a plant, I clean out any old leaves that have lodged themselves around the base. Then I step back and decide which are the main branches, and which are lesser ones that can be pruned away from the base. I now decide whether it is lop-sided and even it out, side-to-side. Next, I look at the space between it and the neighboring plants and determine whether I want it to grow up or out. I can usually recall how it looked during the summer and whether it encroached on other plants during its peak.

Plants that grow too closely to other plants can cause competition for sunlight, and the result may be plants that are awkwardly shaped or stunted. I love to have varying foliage heights to create interest, so many times I’ll prune to encourage new growth to produce height next to a low-growing or spreading plant. Then as spring growth begins, I’ll monitor and snip off any shoots and suckers that pop out low.

Once you complete this “shaping up” session, you’re good to go for quite a while.

You’ll see great results as spring and summer arrive and your landscaping plants and trees are lean and mean and in their best shape ever.

Darla Horner Menking is an outdoor enthusiast and Herald correspondent. Contact her at

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