Think of Canadian winters. The frozen landscape is an expanse of drab browns, ashy grays, and muted whites—except for the occasional patch of green. That patch of green is likely due to the leaves of the evergreen. Evergreens wear the snow so very well. In winterscapes, they appear like an oasis in a desert or a cherry on a sundae; they are delightful disruptions of sameness.
Cedar trees and bushes are types of evergreen of which Canada thankfully has abundance. Most Cedars can weather Canadian climates but ornamental varieties may need special care to help them survive harsh winters and dry summers and to keep them looking their best. One thing we can do to maintain cedar bushes is to give them a proper pruning. Unlike deciduous bushes, cedars require some pruning expertise.
Cedar Beauty Is Not Deep
The greenness of the cedar does not run deep, only about 15 to 30 cms. The cedar’s inner needles are brown because the outer needles are so good at blocking out light that the inner needles gradually die back as bush girth expands. Fresh color will cover the bush as the branches grow. The pattern of new growth snuffing out the old is what makes pruning the cedar tricky. Prune too much and you can retard the growth or even kill the bush.
Timing Is Important
Cedars bushes should ideally be pruned in the spring. Pruning in early spring allows new growth to sprout and cover the bush by mid-summer and keeps the brightest color all around. Summer pruning is sometimes necessary so that the bush does not get overgrown, which it can when summer rains are frequent. Mid-July is about the latest that you should prune cedars because later pruning removes too many buds forcing the re-budding and thus depleting the energy cedars will need to survive through the winter.
Prune with Care
The amount of new growth that you should trim away determines the overall size of the bush. You can keep a cedar roughly the same size if you cut off 90 percent of its new growth. Pruning more than 90 percent of the new growth can damage the bush irreparably.
Steps for Proper Pruning Cedar
Put on gardening gloves and a long sleeved garment: the dryer the cedar branches, the scratchier the cedar branches.
Part the outer branches so that you can reach the inner. Test for deadness by bending branches slightly. Dead branches won’t resist much pressure before they snap. Clip dead inner branches. Clear as much of the dead center as possible while avoiding live branches.
Carefully cut branch tips to create a uniform shaped bush. Don’t ever cut back to the brown branches or needles or you will disrupt the outer green covering. Brown branches won’t sprout new growth.
Cut top growth off the trunk if you want to reduce the height of conical cedars. Taking off the top will cause them to grow more globular. But, again, trim with care: never cut off more than 1/4 the bush’s height a year.
Cut errant branches that push through the canopy of the shrub. Again, be careful not to expose the interior branches and needles.
By following these steps, most amateurs can manage a respectable pruning. But if you don’t feel comfortable pruning evergreens, it may be wise to let a professional do it. Ornamental cedars and evergreens are pricey mistakes if you aren’t careful. And what will your winterscape look like without them?