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!

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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24 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?

    thanks

    • 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. 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.

  12. 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

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