pruning a rose of sharon

Tips on pruning a rose of Sharon

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When I moved into my current home and started to get to know my garden, I discovered I had five rose of Sharon plants on the property. We moved in the fall and the trees had been meticulously pruned, so we didn’t need to worry about pruning them that first year. Fast forward to our second spring and I couldn’t figure out what all these tiny little weeds sprouting up in my lawn were. I soon discovered they were miniature rose of Sharon plants—hundreds of them trying to make their way in the world. So this is both a lesson in pruning a rose of Sharon and a cautionary tale.

I did a little reading and discovered that all those seed pods that appear at the end of the summer open up and drop their seeds to the grass or garden below. If you want to start a rose of Sharon nursery, you’re in business. If you don’t, you’re going to be spending some time pulling up all those earnest little seedlings. (I mentioned this in a piece the Savvy Gardening team wrote about our garden blunders.)

rose of sharon seedlings

Hundreds of little seedlings at the base of a rose of Sharon. It took forever to pull them all out!

Here’s a video showing what I do to keep my Rose of Sharons from self-sowing all over the garden: 

Rose of Sharons look great in perennial gardens—mine have all been pruned to be trees—but they can also be trained into a hedge. My parents inherited a rose of Sharon hedge in front of a fence at their current home and it looks really pretty when it’s in bloom. Mine are scattered throughout my property—two as foundation plantings (beside a lilac and alongside a cedar for a bit of privacy); one is surrounded by lily of the valley in a backyard garden; one is in front of a fence leading into the backyard, and one is in my perennial garden in the front yard.

The pollinators love rose of Sharons! I’ve seen bees coming out of a bloom covered in pollen and hummingbirds flitting about the blooms.

Pollinators love rose of Sharon

This bee was so covered in pollen from a rose of Sharon bloom, he could could barely fly!

Pruning a rose of Sharon

Once I was aware of the rampant seedling population that develops from ignoring the seed pods, I started pruning my rose of Sharons in the fall after the seed pods developed, but before they opened (or rather my husband did as he enjoys anything that involves getting out the loppers and pruners and electric trimmer). However, upon checking my trusty Pruning Answer Book (a similary guide also came out recently called How to Prune Trees & Shrubs), I discovered that rose of Sharons should be pruned in the springtime.

Rose of Sharons are best pruned when dormant because the blooms will grow on new wood. It’s also one of the last trees to get its leaves in the spring, so every year I think I’ve killed mine, but they always come back (despite following an incorrect pruning schedule). However, this past spring, part of one of the trees didn’t come back, so when I consulted my manual, I discovered that we shouldn’t be pruning in fall and may have inadvertently killed the tree.

So, my new schedule is shear the tree in fall and prune in spring. My book says to shear after the tree has bloomed, but before the seeds set. I usually don’t get to them in time to do that, so I will just be snipping off those seed pods in the fall (mid to late September here in southern Ontario) and then doing the rest of the pruning come spring.

rose of Sharon seed pods

This is what the rose of Sharon seed pods look like. They eventually dry out and open, dropping their seeds to the ground below where you will undoubtedly get a small forest of rose of Sharons.

Spring pruning will involve pruning out any branches that form at the base of the tree, as well as thinning out dead or damaged wood, or any unruly branches that affect the tree’s shape.

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43 Responses to Tips on pruning a rose of Sharon

  1. Margaret says:

    Well, I did have a Rose of Sharon in our garden years ago, also inherited when we moved in and I did, in fact, end up killing it – likely from pruning it back in the fall. Oops.

    Thanks for the info, Tara. Coincidentally, I’ve had a copy of the Pruning Answer Book on my desk since spring but have yet to crack it open…guess I had better get to that this winter!

  2. Odette Birrell says:

    I have 3 Rose of Sharon, 2 pinks and 1 white.
    I just cut off all the seedling pods like I do every fall when the seed heads show up and my trees flower beautifully every year.

  3. Kathy Mulroy says:

    At a lecture at Sctt Arboretum several years ago, they recommended pruning/shaping in Jan/Feb here in Zone 5/6. I’ve done so for the last 2 years and have gotten more blooms than before. Of course that mean more seed pod removal in the fall, but it is worth it.

  4. Abby says:

    I just planted a Rose of Sharon last summer. I was heartened to see that you too were concerned when it appeared to be dead in the spring (no pruning was needed yet so that isn’t the problem). But how long should I wait? It is April 13 in Boise Idaho, Zone 6.5. I don’t see any greening or buds and all our trees and shrubs are budding or blooming and most of the perennials are at least showing a little growth. When do I give up hope?

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Abby, I would wait a little while longer. They really do look dead for awhile when other things are leafing out, and then seem to spring to life. ~ Tara

    • sharon says:

      We live in central MO and ours just now have tiny buds, they seem to be really slow when it’s still chilly out, highs in the 50s-60s.

  5. Tara Joy says:

    What time in the spring is appropriate to prune them? I’m afraid of cutting off all my gorgeous blooms. I live in Toronto and I don’t think I see buds on my rose of sharon yet, but I’m nervous about pruning off the gorgeous blooms as my bush has so many. I just want to prune it back a little because it has gotten quite large.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Tara,
      Since the blooms grow on new wood, the best time to prune is in the spring when the plant is still dormant. You should be okay to prune the older big branches. ~ Tara

  6. Mary says:

    I have several Rose of Sharon, I prune in the Spring. Every year, it seems there are lots of buds that don’t open. What can I do to assure all buds bloom. (I have about 30 Rose of Sharon bordering my yard)

    • Tara Nolan says:

      It’s hard to say as it could be one of a few factors – there could be some type of stress to the plant, too much water, over-fertilizing, a pest or a fungal disease, that is causing the buds to drop prematurely.

  7. laurel giles says:

    i have had a rose of sharon several years now but this year I notice that the back of the bush, against the fence, is leafing out but the front of the bush, into the yard has only tiny little shoots of green, just starting to leaf. Why is part of the plant doing better than the rest, especially since I would think it would be the other way around (fence small buds and front in leaf!).
    there are several branches trunks coming out from the base of the tree…should i have pruned these out when the plant started growing so there was only one trunk?


    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Laurel, that does seem odd that the front of the tree would be slower, but it’s encouraging that there are shoots of green. My rose of Sharons (I have a few) have been VERY slow to leaf out this spring, but the others have tiny buds. I don’t think the extra branches should affect the rest of the tree.

  8. Patricia Garafalo says:

    We received three dwarf Rose of Sharon bushes last year and they bloomed beautifully – it is now May 15, 2019 and not a bud or bloom is on any of them – did notice that the deer were munching on them in the dead of winter – (thought they were deer resistent) – could they have killed them?

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Patricia, Mine are SUPER slow to leaf out. I have one that still looks dead, but I’m hopeful because I noticed on the weekend that another of my rose of Sharons has tiny little green buds all over it…

  9. Tonya Johnson says:

    I’m so worried about the rose of sharon I inherited with our house we bought 2 years ago. I didn’t know I couldn’t prune it in the Fall. I waited until all the leaves were gone. I’m not seeing any leaves sprouting on the majority of the bush. I have 2 in the backyard I didn’t touch and they have lots of buds and leaves sprouting. It was such a huge bush that was allowed to over grow, but it was beautiful and had a ton of blooms.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Tonya,
      My rose of Sharons have been super slow to come back after the harsh winter and long spring we’ve had. All of mine have a minimal amount of leaves and are still looking quite bare, but I’m hoping with some warmer weather they start to fill in! ~ Tara

  10. Abby says:

    Hi Tara,
    You were right. I had to be patient. The little leaves started, we had a cold snap and they all turned brown, but now it is coming back!

    I have another question. All these little plants are growing around the bottom of the main plant. I assume they are seedlings from the seeds dropped last year. Do I let them grow up around the main plant of pull them?

    Thank you!

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Oh good! I’m glad to hear it. Yes, you now have a rose of Sharon farm. 😉 I would pull them all out. You could try potting a couple if you want a rose of Sharon elsewhere on your property. Also, in the fall, once the seed heads form, if you want to save the work of pulling out the seedlings, just shear them off. 🙂

  11. Bob says:

    20 years ago I “inherited” a short (5′), stumpy (6′) rose of Sharon planted in a 10’diameter plot surrounded by red bricks and concrete.. First couple of years just trimmed crossing limbs after 1st hard freeze and shriveling leaves indicated dormancy. When it reached 8′, I started trimming it back by one third every other year. Never had a single seedling, just assumed it needed a nearby rose of Sharon. The past three years I’ve needed an arborist to trim it as it had exceeded 12 feet. This year he asked what we had been feeding it (nothing), as he measured it at 15′ 7″. The tallest and most robust he had seen in nearly 30 years as an arborist. This is the first spring since we’ve moved and I’m missing my long talks (I know, I’m a half-cracked egg)

  12. Blanche Parker says:

    I am attempting to create a Rose of Sharon tree from a volunteer.
    I’ve created a main stalk and clipped off side growth. I need to know if I clip off the top.

  13. Suellen says:

    Hi Tara,

    We planted a Rose of Sharon up at our home where there are harsh conditions (zone 9 near Virginia City NV). It grew great this spring until a rabbit pruned it severely! I’ve brought it to town and put it back in a large pot for a balcony. It has come back with lots of new leaves. Is it possible to train it to grow against a wall with a trellis? I’m thinking if not, I would create a kind of Rose of Sharon tree ( I saw at the nursery). The balcony is in Reno, nv. Thanks for your feedback! I hope you respond to the email I gave.. Suellen

  14. Nelda Rice says:

    Hi, Tara,
    My Rose of Sharon bush is very old and woody, and is misshapen in spite of pruning it back early spring each year. It also has fewer blooms every year. I was wondering if it would help to cut it almost to the ground come late winter, early spring and perhaps renew it? Do I dare? It is surrounded by volunteers (suckers) that grow like weeds, and I can’t really control them adequately. Would it be best to remove the original bush and start to cultivate one of these suckers? Any help you can give this amateur would be greatly appreciated!

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Nelda, I had a couple of rose of Sharon casualties after last winter’s weather. They both only bloomed on one side of the tree this summer! However I think I might have to cut my losses. I’m not sure if pruning it all the way down would work. The suckers you see are likely new plants grown from the seeds that drop each year. You can definitely leave one to grow. You can prevent these volunteers by shearing off the seed pods when they’re still green, before they open. That’s something that I am doing in my garden right now. 🙂

  15. Jan Kamide says:

    I just pruned my 10 ft. Rose of Sharon for the first time in many years
    As it’s gotten taller it blooms less and the blooms are mostly at the top of the tree. The yree was fully leafed but only the open dead seed pods remained and there was no sign of buds. I reduced the tree to about 3-4′. Will it bloom this summer?

  16. Lora Trezil says:

    I made the mistake last fall not realizing this could be an issue, i trimmed a couple of branches on my Rose of Sharon Tree, an attempt to shape it. My OCD had been giving me fits. Well unfortunately this year the very branches I trimmed are now not putting on any leaves, will it come back or did I kill them.
    The rest of the tree is fine.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Lora, Rose of Sharon is typically one of the last trees to leaf out – and rather slowly. It’s possible they’ll still put on leaves, but if the rest of the tree is full of leaves, those branches may not come back.

  17. Love flowers says:

    I live in Northern IL, zone 5, and my rose of Sharon’s still appear dead. Three have the smallest size leaves at the bottom. Should I cut it to the ground for new leaves to
    Spring up? I think the wood is dead. I trimmed it around April or May to
    Encourage new growth but I’m terrified they died. They are 2-4 years old. I remember last year they came up late but this feels really late.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Love Flowers,
      I would wait just a little bit longer. I’m in zone 6a and mine are JUST leafing out! I noticed that some branches are also leafless, so I’m wondering if the freeze thaw of winter might have harmed them.

  18. donna white says:

    I was wondering about When to prune.! My rose of Sharon is very ‘leggy’ on the sides. I would like to prune it so it’s a little more compact and fuller. Thank you.

  19. John Muc says:

    It’s mid August in Toronto and I have a couple of negelected small Rose of Sharon growing on and through a wire mesh fence line (growing from my neighbour’s side of the fence). She passed away over a year ago and so the property has been neglected for over a year now).

    They are blooming now … even though it was in very deep shade on her side. I just cleaned up a lot of lilac tree overgrowth on my side and found them. They now will have access to a lot more sun on my side of the fence (but still not “full sun”).

    My question: The house just sold for a 2nd time and I expect the new owner will eventually tear down the house and do construction on the site. I know the growing season (summer) is the “wrong” time to try to relocate them to my side of the fence … but if I did would it in all likelihood be a gaurenteed death sentence? They are now basically just very tall spindly “vines” that were struggling to reach sunlight higher in the lilac tree overgrowth. Worst case I’ll wait till fall if / when I’m able to connect with the new owner and ask, before I see construction (= destruction) activity getting ready to happen on the fence line, but I’m just curious about my chances if I tried now. Thanks.

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi John,
      It might be really hard to dig up… I find even seedlings are tricky. But it’s worth a try. You might have better luck taking some of the seeds, which should be appearing soon and saving them to plant in the early spring. For the ones I miss clipping off, I have rose of Sharons coming up everywhere!

  20. John Muc says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. At a minimum, I’ll now make a point of saving some of the seeds and planting them in early spring. I’ll make sure I keep my eyes on them, as the flowers finish their bloom and drop their seeds.

  21. George says:

    I have always pruned my Rose of Sharon in Sept and make sure all the old buds are taken off, it has come back beautiful each year .

  22. Tori says:

    I need to trim off the bottom 2-3 ft of branches on my rose of Sharons because they are blocking the rain bird system that waters the grass. It is August in Texas. Can I do that now or should I wait a few months?

  23. Darlene says:

    I have a large Rose of Sharon that appears to be dead in The center. It has grown and blossomed around the entirety though the center appears dead with no leaves or flowers. It is very over grown and I would like to remove part of it and replant, as not to lose the entire thing. Can you tell me if this is possible and how big of a portion to cut off and replant? I my memory is correct I received just a branch originally, planted it in ground and it grew. Thank you

    • Tara Nolan says:

      Hi Darlene, I’ve never tried to grow a rose of Sharon from cuttings, but it is possible. New growth can be harvested as cuttings in early summer. In late fall, you would choose a branch that is over a year old. You could also collect the seeds this fall and plant those. It doesn’t take long to produce a small tree.

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