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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 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.
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.
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.