Pruning butterfly bush, russian sage, smoke tree

terryincs(z5 IL)March 10, 2004

Hi there--I know that they suggest cutting back all of these plants early spring, but they don't really get all that big here in the Springs. Do I cut them back or not? Last year I let the butterfly bushes stay full height and they didn't suffer except possible fewer blooms. Is that the reason to cut back? My smoke tree dies to the ground anyway (any ideas for getting it to stay alive higher up the tree?). Any other cutting back in the spring for perennials and shrubs that I should know about??? Blue Mist Spirea?

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zoohortmmm(USDA 4, CO)

We prune butterfly bush, russian sage and caryopteris back to about 12" in late Winter/early Spring. Smoke bush (Cotinus) is generally pruned only to remove winter-killed wood. Flowers and fruit on Smoke bush are only produced on wood 1-yr old or older. Any other pruning, done to shape the plant, should be done after flowering (mid-June - early July), to promote growth that will flower and fruit the following year. Do not prune after mid-July or next season's flower buds will be removed.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2004 at 2:56PM
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animas(z5-SW Colo)

With the blue mist spirea, I opt to cut it to the ground in early spring. I've left it alone one year, pruned it high (only the seedheads) the next year and cut it to the ground last year. There was really no difference in growth, but when cut to the ground, the spirea's fall flower show was better. Blue mist spirea also seems to break dormancy early (I can see leaves on the stems already) which makes some gardeners hesistant to prune. It's not like forsythia or climbing roses, which bloom on old growth. I think you will have a better plant if you "whack" it. But if you want the tawny seedheads for the early spring garden, don't prune. My neighbor basically neglects hers and it looks good, too, and blooms fairly well.

As for Russian Sage, most folks let theirs go unpruned. I think a pruned plant grows tighter and healthier with better flowers in fall.

It's been a couple of years since I grew butterfly bush, but as I recall, mine would die to ground each winter. I whacked whatever was left to the ground in early spring, and it regrew and bloomed great.

As for the smoketree, I assume you mean the Cotinus coggygria? If this is what you're growing, I suggest not watering it very much. Too much water results in lanky and tender growth. The Cotinus likes it dry and doesn't do well in clay. I mix in gravel to improve drainage. I prune deeply into the interior of the plant ('Royal Purple') but not past a lateral bud, and I also trim to keep the form of the plant to my taste. This plant can get tall, but I keep mine in check with spring pruning.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2004 at 2:07PM
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david52 Zone 6

I have lots of butterfly bushes. If you want them to get over 4 to 5 ' in height, then its best to cut them back to 1 or two feet. If they do die off in the winter, then just cut them off at the ground. I like to do mine about the first of May.

Right now, with blue mist spirea the buds are opening. If you prune them back to a few inches, you can make cuttings of the diameter and length of a pencil and push them halfway into the ground. Do a dozen or so, about half will root.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2004 at 5:10PM
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terryincs(z5 IL)

Thanks--- I'll try the propagation of the Blue Mist--would love more. I cleaned up and pruned poff dead wood on my old ramblers roses....was it too early??? I sure hope not. What might happen if it was? I just needed to get them attached to a trellis and in line before they got too leafed out and impossible to work with.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 11:31AM
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david52 Zone 6

There are roses and then other roses. Pruning off dead stuff won't bother anything. However, doing a hard pruning will stimulate growth in warmish weather, and these early days of spring, mean that hybrid teas and such will put out lots of new growth, getting absolutely hammered if / when/ it gets cold again. I'd wait until early May before pruning any rose, then I see how much winter kill I had. Its usually a lot.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2004 at 9:18PM
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terryincs(z5 IL)

These are roses that were planted in the 50s, large red ramblers that seem to take a lot of abuse. I am going to prune back the butterfly bushes and spireas this year and see what happens. The smoke tree died back almost to the ground again. Oh well. I have seen them here in the Springs over 10' tall and gorgeous. I don't know how they do it!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2004 at 10:12AM
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I am so glad I got here. I planted a butterfly bush which did not grow much the first year so the second year I didn't prune it at all, and now it is taller than me. I will try pruning back one foot or so as adviced here. I tested past week and that is how much seems to have died anyway.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2004 at 2:56PM
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kathrynanne(western ny)

Last season I planted seven caryopteris in the same area. Three Longwood Blue and three First Choice. All but one died. Good drainage, good soil, proper sun/shade mix. Any suggestions?

    Bookmark   June 14, 2004 at 9:40AM
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catladysgarden(z5 CO)

My butterfly bushes always die to the ground in Winter, but they come back strong in the Spring. The buddleia alternifolia doesn't die back. My smoke tree hasn't had any dieback for a number of years.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cat Lady's Garden

    Bookmark   July 11, 2004 at 11:42AM
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looking for a list of perennails that are recommended to NOT prune

    Bookmark   July 16, 2004 at 8:36PM
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I have a smoke bush and an in need of a lesson of pruning and trimming. The bush has 4 main branches from the ground and many stalks in the center. I need to know where to prune and when. I love the bush but its getting out of control. Can some one help an inexperianced person out on this subject?

    Bookmark   June 18, 2006 at 2:00PM
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Can I trim back my sage bush other times than just the spring and fall? I have 3 that are getting really big that are taking over and blocking the sun from my ohter plants.
Any suggestions? The landscaper planted all the plants so I figured he knew what he was doing, but now I can't see the other plants.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 10:16PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

There are a lot of different things that use the common name, sage, Susan. Is it Russian sage? Can you tell us what the botanical name of your sage is--possibly from the landscapers plan? If not, can you post a few pictures? What to do with it will really depend on just exactly what you have. With more information somebody should be able to help you. Oh, and are you in the Rocky Mountain area? What's your zone?

Welcome to RMG,

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 10:38PM
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robinco(z5 CO)

As a general rule, I prune only dead wood and spent flowers for the first 3 years, then I get brutal and cut back to 6-12" in March every year after that. This applies to Caryopteris and Perovskia - I don't grow the others (successfully). My Caryopteris reseed and sprout up all over the place - no complaints, though... I love having some blue in the late summer garden!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2008 at 3:35PM
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