The Q&A Archives: Pruning A Golden Elder Bush

Question: I have four very large golden elder bushes that I have nearly killed in the past because of improper pruning. I have noticed that the golden elder bushes are very fragile. Would you please tell me how/where to prune these bushes before I do them in?


The recommended pruning of Golden Elder is straightforward: you can prune them to the ground if they are getting out of hand, but only while they are dormant (before the buds break in late winter/early spring).

First of all, determine why they are "in need of a proper pruning." Are their branches interfering with pathways, views, etc.? One should always have a specific goal in mind when pruning. Most landscape plants are pruned far more than they require; remember, in nature, nobody is doing any pruning! If the only reason you are pruning is to reduce the size of a plant, you have the wrong plant in that space. You may want to put it something else that will grow to its full size in the space you have available.

Begin by removing any dead, broken, diseased or crossing limbs. You can remove such misplaced or damaged wood at any time of year. Often, this step is all that is necessary to open up the plant reduce its size. If you determine that more is required, follow any branch back to it's point of origin and try to visualize what the plant will look like without it. Remove main branches at their point of origin, which means where it attaches to the main branch or trunk. Alternately, you can prune branches back to a bud facing in the direction that you want future growth to expand. When cutting back to a bud, make the cut at a 45-degree angle, one-quarter inch above the desired bud, angled toward the bud. If the cut is made too close or the angle too steep, the bud may be wounded. But don't cut too far away, leaving a stub, because stubs don't heal properly, and may act as portals for disease.

If you have sheared or topped your elders, this will not only interfere with their normal growth habit (structure and form) but may have stressed them to the point where they become weak, and unhealthy. Pruning is best learned from a skilled gardener, or at least from a book with illustrations. Don't worry, it gets easier over time. I hope this info helps!

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