Shag cut for low juniper

"A bit off the top and sides, please..."

 

Help! We need to own detailed pictures for clipping junipers. We've read what you've written, understand it, and believe it's the way to go to keep them smaller but still nice and feathery. We even cut a part of a juniper at a class you taught a year or so ago.

But every time we have gone out to cut our own junipers the two of us argue. Maybe it's because they're already too big. You did say those are the scary ones. But they're only getting more overgrown while we bicker about whether it's okay to cut this branch or that.

So can you give us pictures we can print out and take out there with us? Thanks so much. - M & P -

One cut at a time, it's an approach that can't be beat.

One cut at a time, it's an approach that can't be beat.

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Pruning by committee is never easy. The only reason we can prune in a group at our Garden by Janet & Steven sessions is that those groups are not really committees but work gangs in which everyone has agreed to give Janet the final say. (As Steven puts it, "Yes, I prune. But if Janet's there I'd rather she made the calls.")

Perhaps more importantly, at such sessions we are pruning other people's plants so no one is held back by the thought, "I am going to have to live with this."

So here are photos  of routine- and more drastic cuts, with details, and we wish you good luck.

We also strongly recommend that just one of you does the pruning. The other should go shopping or visiting for the duration because even if you promise to stay inside there will come the overwhelming urge to go to a window or door, where you will end up making the other nervous with sharp intakes of breath and gasps.

 

Routine cut leaves 'em shaggy and smaller by a year or two

When the objective is to keep them shaggy but stop their spread, we clip junipers back every year or two in late summer. (If your junipers are topiary -- more tightly sheared into cubes, pom poms or other fanciful shapes -- then you must prune every year in late summer or very early spring. They may also need touch up to clip stray tips in June. We will include that article in another issue.)

Here's a juniper about to be clipped. We want it to be just four bricks high and no closer to the Japanese maple than six inches.

Here's a juniper about to be clipped. We want it to be just four bricks high and no closer to the Japanese maple than six inches.

Here is that same shrub ten minutes later, after it's reduced by two years -- meaning it won't need any additional clipping for two years. Note the blue arrows. The juniper was as tall as the lilac branch; afterward it's two bricks shorter.

Here is that same shrub ten minutes later, after it's reduced by two years -- meaning it won't need any additional clipping for two years. Note the blue arrows. The juniper was as tall as the lilac branch; afterward it's two bricks shorter.

What happened in those ten minutes is that we took hold of every branch that had crossed the line we've set as the plant's outside edge, and cut it back by two years' growth -- or even farther. (More on those specific cuts coming up.)

After the cut, the outer edge consists of naturally-ending (not cut) tips that were previously interior branches still growing their way out to the line.

As for limbs we cut, each will be able to continue growing from a needled tip, in the light of the openings made as we cut them. By the time they regain the cutting edge they'll be full and feathery once more.

The cuts in detail

1. Here is one of those branches we removed
back at the five year line.

We're using the rake handle as a simple
point of reference.

 

 

 

 

 2. The dashed blue line is our limit, the farthest spread we'll allow on these plants -- the line this branch breached this year to become a clip-back candidate.

This juniper's annual growth rate is about eight inches. The wood darkens in its second year so you can gauge growth rate by measuring from outer tip to the place where light yellow-green or tan branches give way to brown-er wood.

Even two junipers of the same type can grow different amounts -- we've seen growth rates between four inches and 15 inches. We cut based on how much the particular plant is growing.

 

 

 3. Here is what we would cut from such a branch if we were cutting every year. Note that an individual cut takes out more than just the newest wood. We've cut back however far we must to leave a graceful side branch that ends behind the line by a few to eight inches -- one year's growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. To reduce the branch by two years, we'd make these cuts.

5. & 6. After shortening the branches we make some additional cuts to thin the plant and let light reach in where we need to keep new growth coming...

...and also remove any unattractive and leafless twigs that make the visible edge brown and block light to greenery way back inside the line.

7. The two-year cut has a feathery edge but it presents more wood than we like. 

That's why we removed this entire five-year branch in thinning. We cut it off 'way back inside the shrub, just outside a side branch with a green tip. This whole branch is itself a grown-out side branch from an earlier cutting.

 

 

A harder cut

Now here's a harder cut, made to take a shrub back about six years that had not been seriously trimmed for about that long. (For good reason. It's in a garden center's display garden meant to show you plants' unrestrained potential.)

As it was six years ago...

As it was six years ago...

... and now.

... and now.

These pictures were taken at almost the same angle so you can use the gazebo in the background as a measuring stick.

Here's Janet, about to cut and explaining to Garden by Janet & Steven session attendees that there is a bed edge somewhere under the juniper's branches, and the first job... ...is to find it and remove any branches that have no green inside that edge.

Here's Janet, about to cut and explaining to Garden by Janet & Steven session attendees that there is a bed edge somewhere under the juniper's branches, and the first job... ...is to find it and remove any branches that have no green inside that edge.

She's got her arm in the shrub, feeling for a place to cut back one of those branches.

She's got her arm in the shrub, feeling for a place to cut back one of those branches.

Now the middle section is cut back. Because it's hard to see the edging we've outlined it for you.

Now the middle section is cut back. Because it's hard to see the edging we've outlined it for you.

Finally, here's the whole juniper cut back and overgrown edge revealed. Some grass seed or mulch is in order!

Finally, here's the whole juniper cut back and overgrown edge revealed. Some grass seed or mulch is in order!

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