Nervous About Pruning? New Book Shows You How

If there’s one subject that makes novice gardeners anxious, it’s pruning. I receive so many e-mails from readers who want to prune some of their shrubs or trees but are nervous about the process. I can just imagine someone, standing before a prized bush with palms sweating and hands trembling, convinced that their surgery is about to kill the patient!

In fact, pruning can confound even the most competent gardener. Over the years, I’ve devoted a number of columns to pruning and you can find an archive of previous columns at

But if you’re looking for a complete how-to guide, you can’t do better than “The Pruning Book” by Lee Reich who has an advanced degree in horticulture and is a recognized authority on pruning.

Already a best seller and the winner of several awards, “The Pruning Book” has just been re-published in a completely revised and updated edition by the Taunton Press at $21.95.

The book explains the do’s and don’ts of cutting back, from humble houseplants to the more exotic species. With straightforward text, over 250 photographs and 135 drawings, this book walks gardeners through every aspect of pruning.

Successful pruning requires a combination of technique and timing – making the right cuts at the right time of year and Reich makes it easy to get both aspects right. If you’re the one with the sweating palms and shaking hands, or even if you’re an experienced gardener, this book should boost your confidence and ability when you pick up those pruning shears.

Here are a couple of questions from readers who contacted me at steve (at)

QUESTION: “My Green Mountain Boxwoods are getting some brown branches. They are about 12 years old. Maybe they are dying of old age? Until last winter they have been thriving.” – Arlie Klebe

ANSWER: Most boxwood varieties are long lived, much longer than 12 years. The most common reasons for browning are usually from over fertilizing, fungus (from wet weather usually), dogs urinating on the branches, and winter damage (both cold winds and severe temperatures).

Quite often plants can have winter damage, but the results not show up until mid to late summer, typically on evergreens.

To see if the branches are still viable, scratch the bark to see if there is green to greenish white underneath. If there is, then the branches should regenerate. If there is only brown underneath the bark layer, clip the damaged branches back to where there is green growth.

QUESTION: “Can you please recommend a couple of varieties of pretty, hardy clematises, preferably that re-bloom, for a sunny, climbing location? I have had a purple one (I can’t recall the variety) whose leaves turn brown and crinkle up during the summer, despite what I believe to be proper watering and care. It also doesn’t really seem to thrive.” – Seth Popkin

ANSWER: The clematis you have may just be a spring flowering variety, which means that by summer it will be all bloomed out and ready to go dormant. There are many, many continuous bloomers (typically June – September) as well ass specifically spring, summer and fall blooming varieties.

The Jackmanii is a good example of what is considered a continuous bloomer but there are many other varieties. You will need to check with your local garden center to see what varieties are available. Just double check the labels to make sure that they bloom when you want.

The Plant Man, , is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit

Steve Jones

Steve Jones, The Plantman, is a professional gardener and landscaper. His advice is based on the concept that our goal should be to leave the land better than the way we found it. Or at the very least, to do it no harm.

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