The term broadleaf evergreen is somewhat misleading since it includes evergreen shrubs with large leaves such as aucuba, but also includes evergreens with small leaves such as boxwood, Japanese hollies, and pyracantha. The term broadleaf is used to include all evergreens except conifers which have needle or scalelike leaves.
Most broadleaf evergreens require a limited amount of pruning. Generally, pruning can be done whenever it is convenient, but the best time is early spring. Envision the natural shape and selectively cut back out-of-place branches. A compact plant results when branches are pruned back to a lateral within the plant canopy. This will also hide the stub and extend the time between prunings. Some plants, such as azalea and abelia, produce long, vigorous shoots that extend well beyond the natural canopy. These should be cut back severely within the canopy; try to leave a few leaves on the stem. Moderate to heavy pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before new growth begins.
Evergreens that flower in early spring should not be pruned in late summer, fall, or winter, otherwise, the number of flowers will be reduced. Prune immediately after they finish flowering. Plants, such as pyracantha and hollies, produce flowers and berries on growth from the previous season. Light pruning over several years is recommended since severe pruning will reduce or eliminate berry production. Remove branches that are the most out-of-bounds.
Mahonia and nandina plants sometimes develop leggy branches with foliage only at the top. These may be removed at ground level or at any height desired. New shoots will develop just below the cut. The best time to prune is after berries drop in the spring. Usually, only a few of the tallest and oldest branches should be cut back to achieve a layered look. For multi-stemmed plants, such as leucothoe, completely remove a few of the oldest branches to the ground each year for 2 to 3 years.
Sometimes evergreens become too large for their location and severe pruning is required. Healthy, broadleaf evergreens can be successfully rejuvenated if severely pruned in late winter or early spring just before new growth begins. Over-grown shrubs, such as hollies, ligustrum, camellia, and mountain laurel, can be cut back to bare branches 2 to 4 feet (or lower) from the ground. The plant should recover in two to three years.
New growth at first may seem slow because dormant buds must become active before growth can occur. By mid-summer some of the new shoots may be excessively vigorous and should be thinned and headed back when they are 6 to 12 inches long.
For additional information on pruning shrubs, contact the Cooperative Extension center in your county.
© Erv Evans, Consumer