Las Pilitas Nursery

California Native Plants are all we grow!

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Santa Margarita, CA 93453

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This website is dedicated to Bert Wilson. His genius continues to inspire us.

How to Prune Native Plants (without killing them)

General Pruning Tips

If you design the planting appropriately pruning should only be part of the late summer and late winter clean up. You shouldn't need to prune the plant because it is too large for the space (instead replace it with a lower growing plant). Plant the appropriate-sized plant for the area. You can espalier some species, but others are very susceptible to stem borers and sun burn. The worst genus to use for espalier is Ceanothus, the best are some of the deciduous species, Clematis, Lonicera, Ribes, Prunus and the evergreen Rhus, Quercus, and Prunus.

Prune to clean up.(Notice the period.) If the plant goes summer deciduous or experiences frost burn, prune. Don't fertilize or water, but do prune. Pruning is not a happy time around here. Celeste, my wife, is a tree hugger, and I have been accused many times of mass butchery. Prune a little more than just the dead portions, up to 30% of the plant/year is Ok. (We feel that palms may be pruned to the ground every year until they don't come back.) Some of the genera like Quercus, Umbellularia, and Arctostaphylos are slow to recover from a bad hair cut.

Pretend you're a deer, elk or if you're man enough, a moose, and 'eat' off the parts of the plant that bug you. I personally prefer the chain saw. (We have very aggressive deer.) The prunings go into a driveway and are picked up with one of the tractors. Prunings can be chipped (if you have a very big chipper or are retired), burned (during a burning period, and then placed where you want a lot of fertility, like a vegetable garden, do NOT put pruning ashes on natives), stacked for quail cover well away from a structure, or hauled to a land fill to fill it up.

Prune when nature tells you to prune; late summer (if you've lived with deer, you've seen their 'pruning') and late winter after the frosts have beat up all that they can. Pruning late in fall will push new growth that can't harden off, and pruning in winter will do the same thing. Most natives have two 'dormant' periods (rather slow downs than true dormancy), summer and again in mid-winter. They will push new growth in early winter, shut down, harden off and wait until their next push in spring. Most natives (not all) grow in small pulses, not fast blow- away growth. Some genera like Ceanothus grow very fast for 2-3 years, then slowly in small pulses.

If you live along the coast your pruning window is much wider. If you're in the desert the spring pruning should be earlier. If you live in the mountains (3000 ft.+) forget the fall pruning and only prune in early spring.

Sometimes you forget a plant. It looks so good for years, then it doesn't. That's what happened on this Salvia I hard pruned. After 20-30 years it suddenly looked old. When you hack them this hard they sometimes do not come back, but many, if not most, will and look better. Crown sprotters will usually come back, as long as it's only done every 20-30 years. Some California natives are not crown sprouters and will not come back. Some of the tree Manzanitas and Ceanothus have this trait.

An old picture of an old Purple Sage, Salvia leucophylla, maybe 2000 - grid24_12
A thirty year old Salvia leucophylla Purple Sage that looks like a face lift is needed.
This is what the 30 year old purple sage looked like after pruning. Maintaining something every 30 years? An the garden looks good? - grid24_12
A thirty year old Salvia leucophylla Purple Sage that has been pruned.
A couple of seasons after pruning  the Purple Sage is back in full shape. - grid24_24
The same Purple Sage two years later.

Plant Specific Pruning Tips

Genus

Common Name

When To Prune

How To Prune

Notes

Abies

Fir

spring

dead material only

 

Abronia

Sand verbena

winter

dead material only

seasonal dieback common

Acacia

Cat Claw, Wait-a-minute

late winter

very carefully, can handle at lot

A. Greggii is like pruning a wildcat

Acer

Maple

late summer

little but correct bad structure

Acer negundo

Box Elder

Christmas

work to open it up, cleanup

Achillea

Yarrow

winter

mow it

goes winter deciduous

Adenostoma

Chamise

late summer

can handle topiary

Adenostoma

Red Shanks

late summer

prune up and work with it, nice

will sucker at cut, prune carefully

Adiantum

Maidenhair

early spring

clean up

Aesculus

Buckeye

summer

open up and clean up

Agastache

Horse Mint

early spring

clean up

shuts down in late summer

Agave

Agave

summer

control and clean up

Agoseris

late summer

dead head

Alnus

Alder

Christmas

remove suckers or top according to desired size

Ambrosia

spring

cleanup

Amorpha

Indigo Bush

late summer

cleanup

Anemopsis

Yerba Mansa

Christmas

mow

goes winter deciduous

Antirrhinum

Snapdragon

late sum/spring

cleanup

Aquilegia

Columbine

late sum/spring

cleanup

Arbutus

Madrone

late summer

VERY little, cleanup

Arctostaphylos

Manzanita

late summer

VERY little, cleanup

Aristolochia

Dutchman's

Christmas

manage/control the vines

goes winter deciduous

Arnica

Frog Flower

early spring

dead head

Artemisia

Sage brush

late summer

handles pruning well

Asarum

Wild Ginger

late summer

can mow or remove foliage

Asclepias

Monarch

early spring

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Aster

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Atriplex

Saltbush

early spring

remove dead material if needed

bambi loves and will prune for you

Baccharis

early spring

remove dead material if needed

can handle full butchering

Beloperone

Chuparosa

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Betula

Birch

Christmas

remove suckers to make tree, top to make shrub

goes winter deciduous

Bouteloua

Blue Gramma

Christmas

mow

Brickellia

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Brodiaea

Wild Hyacinth

na

na

disappears in summer

Calochortus

Mariposa Lilly($2/small bulb)

na

na

disappears in summer

Calycanthus

Spice Bush

Christmas

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Camassia

Camas

na

na

disappears in summer

Camissonia

Beach Evening Primrose

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Campanula

California

late summer

remove dead material if needed

disappears in summer

Carex

Sedge

late summer

mow if needed

Carpenteria

Bush Anemone

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Castilleja

Indian Paint

early summer

remove dead material if needed

Ceanothus

Mtn. Lilac

late summer

remove dead material if needed, prune to control

Cephalanthus

Button willow

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Cercidium

Palo Verde

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Cercis

Redbud

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Cercocarpus

Mountain Mahogany

late summer

remove dead material if needed

deer love

Chilopsis

Desert Willow

Christmas

prune to shape

goes winter deciduous

Chlorogalum

late summer

dead head

goes summer deciduous

Chrysothamnus

early spring

dead head

Cirsium

late summer

dead head

Clematis

early spring

dead head, control

goes winter deciduous

Cneoridium

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Comarostaphylis

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Cornus

Dogwood

late summer

remove dead material if needed, can be heavily pruned

goes winter deciduous

Corylus

Hazelnut

Christmas

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Cowania

Cliff Rose

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Cratagus

Hawthorn

Christmas

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Crossosoma

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Cupressus

Cypress

late summer

top, remove dead material if needed

Delphinium

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Deschampsia

winter

mow

Diplacus

Monkey Flower

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Dryopteris

Wood Fern

spring

remove dead material if needed

Dudleya

Liveforever

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Elocharis

Creeping Spike Rush

winter

mow

goes winter deciduous

Elymus

Wildrye

late summer

remove dead material if needed, smaller forms can be mowed

Encelia

Bush sunflower

early spring

remove dead material if needed

Epipactis

winter

mow

goes summer deciduous

Equisetum

Dwarf

winter

mow

goes winter deciduous

Ericameria

Parish's

winter

remove dead material if needed

Erigeron

Fleabane

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Eriodictyon

Yerba Santa

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Eriogonum

Buckwheat

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Eriophyllum

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Erysimum

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Eschscholzia

California

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Fallugia

Apache Plume

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Forestiera

Desert Olive

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Fragaria

Strawberry

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Frankenia

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Fraxinus

Ash

December

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Fremontia

Flannel Bush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Galvezia

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Garrya

Silk Tassal

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Gaultheria

Salal

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Geranium

Calif. Geranium

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Grindella

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Haplopappus

Golden Bush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Helenium

Owlsclaws

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Heleocharis

Spike Rush

winter

mow

goes winter deciduous

Helianthemum

Sun Rose

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Helianthus

Sunflower

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Heteromeles

Toyon

spring

remove dead material if needed

Heuchera

Alum Root

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Holodiscus

Cream Bush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Hordeum

California

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Horkellia

Star Turf

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Hyptis

Desert

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Iris

late summer

remove dead material if needed

looks like hell in summer

Isomeris

Bladder Bod

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Iva

Hayes iva

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Jamesia

Cliffbush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Juglans

December

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Juncus

Rush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Juniperus

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Keckiella

Bush Penstemon

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Larrea

Creosote Bush

late summer

can be hedged

Lathyrus

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Lepechinia

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Lepidium

Desert Alyssum

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Leptodactylon

Prickly Phlox

summer

remove dead material if needed

Leymus

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Libocedrus

Incense Cedar

summer

remove dead material if needed

Lilium

Lily

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Lithocarpus

Tanbark Oak

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Lobelia

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Lonicera

Honeysuckle

late summer

control, remove dead material if needed

Lotus

Deerweed

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Ludwigia

Water Primrose

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Lupinus

Silver Bush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Lyonothamnus

Catalina Ironwood

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Mahonia

Oregon Grape

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Malacothamnus

Bush Mallow

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Maurandya

Snapdragon

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Melica

summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Mentha

Mint

winter

mow if necessary

Mimulus

Seep Flower

late summer

remove dead material if needed, mow if you need to

goes winter deciduous

Mirabilis

Four-O'clock

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Monardella

Mint Bush

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Muhlenbergia

Deer Grass

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Myrica

Wax Myrtle

late summer

hedge if needed

Oemleria

Oso Berry

early winter

remove dead material if needed

Oenothera

Evening

late summer

mow if needed

Opuntia

Beavertail

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Pellaea

Coffee Fern

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Penstemon

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Petrophytum

Rock Spiraea

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Phacelia

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Philadelphus

Wild Mock Orange

winter

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Physocarpus

Ninebark

winter

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Pinus

Pine

all year

remove dead material if needed, most pines don''t grow back, clean tools with disinfectant before using

Platanus

California

winter

remove dead material if needed, if much dead, look for over or under watering

goes winter deciduous

Pluchea

Arrow Weed

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Poa

Pine bluegrass

mow if needed

Polemonium

Western Sky

remove dead material if needed

Populus

Cottonwood

prune up

goes winter deciduous

Potentilla

Cinquefoil

remove dead material if needed

Prunus

remove dead material if needed

Pseudotsuga

remove dead material if needed

Psoralea

Indian Hemp

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Purshia

Antelope

remove dead material if needed

Quercus

Oak

remove dead material if needed

if much dieback, look at horticulture

Rhamnus

remove dead material if needed

if much dieback, look at horticulture

Rhus

remove dead material if needed

if much dieback, look at horticulture

Ribes

Currant/Gooseberry

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Romneya

Rosa

Rose

remove dead material if needed, control suckers

goes winter deciduous

Rubus

Thimbleberry

remove dead material if needed, control suckers

Salix

Willow

remove dead material if needed, control suckers

goes winter deciduous

Salvia

Sage

remove dead material if needed

Sambucus

Blue Elderberry

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Sarcostemma

Hartweg's

remove dead material if needed

Satureja

remove dead material if needed

Scirpus

Bull Tule

control

goes winter deciduous

Scrophularia

remove dead material if needed

Scutellaria

remove dead material if needed

ok to mow in late summer

Sedum

Stonecrop

remove dead material if needed

Senecio

remove dead material if needed, control

Shepherdia

Silver

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Sidalcea

Checker Mallow

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Sisyrinchium

Eyed Grass

late summer

remove dead material if needed

ok to mow in late summer

Solanum

Night Shade

remove dead material if needed

Solidago

Golden Rod

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Sphaeralcea

Desert Mallow

remove dead material if needed

Spiraea

Mountain

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Sporobolus

Alkali Sacaton

late summer

remove dead material if needed

ok to mow in late summer

Stachys

White Hedge

late summer

remove dead material if needed

ok to mow in late summer

Stanleya

Prince's Plume

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Stipa

late summer

ok to mow in late summer

goes summer deciduous

Styrax

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Suaeda

Sea-Blite

Symphoricarpos

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Tellima

Fringcup

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Thalictrum

Meadow Rue

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Thuja

Canoe-Cedar

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Trichostema

Woolly Blue-

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Triteleia?

Golden

remove dead material if needed

Umbellularia

Bay Laurel

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Vaccinium

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Vancouveria

Inside-Out

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Verbena

Pink Verbena

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Viola

Violet

late summer

remove dead material if needed

disappears

Vitis

winter

remove dead material if needed

goes winter deciduous

Wyethia

Narrowleaf Mule Ears

late summer

remove dead material if needed

goes summer deciduous

Xylococcus

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Xylorhiza

Orcutt's Aster

late summer

remove dead material if needed

Yucca

na

remove dead material if needed

if you have to prune, its dead

Zauschneria

California fuchsia

December

remove dead material if needed

mow or hard prune