Plant Corner: Winter Pruning

by Rick Barnes

Not Every Plant, Every Year!

Winter pruning refers to the removal of a significant amount (25-100%) of the above-ground portion of a plant during the dormant season in an effort to rejuvenate or reshape it. Plants treated this way are invigorated as they grow back from energy stored in lower stems and roots. This often involves removal of living plant tissue, as in the pruning of an evergreen or deciduous shrub, or removal of dead plant material to ground level, as in the pruning of perennials and ornamental grasses. Winter pruning also could include the scalping of warm-season grasses in the early spring.

Healthy, vigorous plants that were properly selected for their planting site don’t often require pruning of any kind, let alone drastic winter pruning. Such plants may grow and bloom for many years with no pruning at all. Other plants, such as perennials and ornamental grasses, look much better and remain healthier as a result of removing their dead tops each winter. Even groundcovers such as Liriope benefit from winter pruning to ground level to remove insects and help establish a better appearance as the old damaged foliage is removed. Certainly fast-growing plants placed in areas where they may block windows or create security hazards should be evaluated each year, though drastic winter pruning may not be called for nearly as often.

The 10 Best Plants for Winter Pruning


1 Abelia
2 Anise
3 Buddleia (Butterfly Bush)
4 Cleyera
5 Hollies: Chinese, Burford, and many others
6 Liriope
7 Nandina
8 Ornamantal Grasses
9 Perennials
10 Rose

Again, not all of these plants need winter pruning every year, especially if they are healthy, vigorous, and well placed in the landscape. Of the 10 mentioned, Roses, Buddleia, Ornamental Grasses, Perennials, and Liriope offer the best results from frequent winter pruning.

Read The Science (and the Art) of Pruning by Rick Barnes.
Oringially published in 2006, Cultivated News: News From The Ground Up.

Did You Know: The Drought is Over!

Did you know that too much rainfall can be as detrimental to plant health as too little? Georgia received 69 inches of rain last year, just two inches from Georgia’s record in 1948. Plants require a balance of oxygen and moisture in the soil for optimum root growth. Soils saturated by too much water, either from excessive rainfall or over-irrigating, can force oxygen out of the soil, setting up anaerobic conditions that can lead to root death and disease. While we have no control over excessive rainfall, we can improve the drainage on our properties and planting in our planting sites. Are drainage problems plaguing you and your property? We can help!

Lenten Rose
(Helleborus orientalis)

Plant of the Month: Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

Lenten Rose is known for its early and prolonged bloom time, which in milder climates is said to begin in winter and continue through mid-spring. Not a true rose, the Lenten Rose is actually a member of the Buttercup family but is named so because the flower buds resemble a tightly gathered rose bud about to blossom. This plant requires partial to full shade and regular watering in a well draining soil. To keep the Lenten Rose in the shade helps to uphold the vivid colors of the plant’s leaves and petals. Producing such a beautiful flower, one would not think of the Lenten Rose as being dangerous, but the entire plant is considered toxic, even causing mild skin irritations if handled for long periods of time without garden gloves. This perennial is said to be an excellent deer repellent and would be ideal in deer infested areas. One of the first flowers of spring, the Lenten Rose is a welcome sight among the winter landscape.