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Maintaining Your New California Garden: Life-friendly Fall Pruning

  Mother Nature's Backyard in November: illustrating life-friendly fall pruning. Late fall and early winter are important prun...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pruning Common Native Plants

Pruning Common Native Plants Used in South Bay Gardens

Plant Species
Trees and Large Shrubs
(Arctostaphylos species
Summer (after blooming/fruiting): Prune as little as possible; removing branches for health reasons only is best practice
Coyote Bush
(Baccharis pilularis)
Winter: prune to shape if needed.  Start in  first year with low-growing forms.  Thin entire branches (for shaping) or remove up to 1/3 of branch length to encourage new growth
Mule Fat (Baccharis salicifolia)
Fall/winter (main pruning): Thin entire branches (for shaping) or remove up to 1/3 of branch length to encourage new growth
California Lilac
(Ceanothus species)
Spring: deadhead to improve appearance if desired
Summer: Best time for selectively prune branches back to trunk for shaping (after blooming ceases).  Can also prune to shape in late fall.
(Heteromeles arbutifolia)
Summer (after blooming): Selectively prune to open foliage; remove suckers
Rhamnus species (Coffeeberry; Redberries)
Summer: selectively prune out entire branches to shape    (if desired)
Rhus species (Lemonadeberry; Sugar Bush; Laurel Sumac)
Spring: hedge-shear (if hedging) during active growth after flowering/fruiting
Summer: see spring
Fall: prune to shape as needed.
Matilija Poppy
(Romneya coulteri)
Winter: Prune back entire plant to 4-6 in. tall just prior to re-growth season
Smaller Shrubs & Vines
California Sagebrush
(Artemisia californica)
Fall: Remove top ½ of branch length; do not cut into old wood.  For  ‘Canyon Gray’ remove central upright branches as they appear.
California Encelia
(Encelia californica)
Also Goldenbushes (Hazardia, Isocoma), Gum Plants (Grindelia)
Summer: remove old seed heads if unsightly after birds have eaten seeds
Fall: cut back to about 6-8” in late fall (after flowering for the Goldenbushes)
Bush Monkeyflowers (Diplacus species)
Spring: Deadhead to improve appearance, plant vigor
Fall: Cut back to 4-6 in. above old wood (leave 4-6 buds)
Native shrubby Backwheats (Eriogonum species)
Fall/winter: Remove spent flower stalks; if plants are  woody/ragged cutting back to 2-4 inches may rejuvenate – but may kill plant.  For Giant Buckwheat/St. Catherine’s Lace just trim off spent flower stalks.
Island Snapdragon
(Gambelia/Galvezia speciosa)
Spring: tip-prune (pinch growing tips) for fullness
Spring/Summer: Deadhead as flowers fade; promotes prolonged bloom. 
Winter: Can be cut back to 6 inches in late winter to promote lush foliage
Native Honeysuckles (Lonicera species)
Fall: prune to shape in late fall/winter
Currants & Gooseberries (Ribes species)
Fall: Prune out weak/crossing branches when dormant.  If desired, prune to shape by cutting back to a bud pointing the desired direction.
(Salvia species except Salvia apiana)
Summer: may cut back branches to 3-4 sets of leaves after flowering to encourage a second bloom
Fall: cut back branches to 3-4 sets of new leaves if not so pruned in summer
White Sage (S. apiana) - cut back spent flower stems only
Native Grapes (Vitis species)
Fall: prune/train in late fall when leaves have fallen
Lilac Verbena
(Verbena lilacina)
Year-round:  deadhead to improve appearance
Sub-Shrubs (half-woody plants) and Perennials
Milkweeds (Ascepias species
Fall: cut back to 2-3 inches
Heucheras/Coral Bells
Fall/winter:  remove spent leaves; if plants have gotten too big,  dig up parent plant; carefully divide and replant daughter plants.
Mint family groundcovers
(Hummingbird Sage; Woodmint (Stachys); Wild Mint)
Spring: tip-prune if desired for fullness
Fall: cut back to 4 inches in late fall
Dudleya species
Spring/Summer: Deadhead to improve appearance, or later to provide seed for birds
Fall: cut back dead flower stalks (if not done before)
California Fuschia
(Epilobium species)
Spring: tip-prune if desired for fullness
Fall/Winter: cut back to 4 inches after blooming ceases
Summer: Deadhead as flowers fade; promotes prolonged bloom. 
Fall: Remove spent flower stalks to ground after seeds are gone
Sunflower family groundcovers (Coast Aster, Yarrow, Mugwort)
Fall: Mow or cut back to 2-4 inches
Grasses/ Grass-like Plants; Native bulbs/corms
Cool-season bunch grasses (Festuca; Nasella; Calamagrostis;  Leymus; Melica)
Summer/fall: rake out old dead leaves
Fall: rejuvenate every 2-4 years by cutting back to 4-5 inches; if desired, divide clumps, making sure each clump has a good root ball
Warm-season bunch grasses (Deer Grass; Alkali Saccaton; Purple three-awn)
Spring: rake out old dead leaves; rejuvenate every 2-4 years by cutting back to 4-5 inches
Rushes & Sedges
Fall/winter: rake/clip out old dead leaves; rejuvenate every 2-4 years by cutting back to 4-5 inches; if desired, divide clumps, making sure each clump has a good root ball
Bulbs & Corms
Fall: Dig up every 2-3 years; scatter small bulbs/corms or plant in pots



A few general notes on pruning native plants:

·         Always use sharp, clean pruners, saws, etc.

·         Prune for safety and plant heath (disease) as needed, any time of year

·         For large shrubs/trees: never prune off more than ¼ to 1/3 of the foliage – more will stress the plant

·         Don’t prune during excessive heat or when a spell of wet weather is predicted

·         Go slowly – the goal is well-pruned plants, not warp-speed pruning

·         When in doubt, don’t prune.  Come back another day & re-evaluate.

For more complete guide to pruning common native plants see: http://www.manhattanbeachbotanicalgarden.org/pdf/Guidelines_for_Pruning_CA_Native_Plants.pdf


  1. Thanks so much for this article! It's been very helpful in my flowerbeds already this year. Why is it not good to prune before a spell of wet weather? I would think that it would be good to get the plant where you want it before it rains so that it uses the rain for the healthiest part of the plant instead of the dead, dry foliage you prune off. Thoughts?

    Grace | http://www.coastwidetreeservices.com.au/Services.html

    1. The reason not to prune during wet weather, at least in S. California, is to prevent the spread of fungal diseases. This is particularly so when a wet period is followed by warm weather. Fungal spores, spread during wet weather, enter via fresh cuts. Then the warm weather provides the perfect conditions for fungi to grow.

  2. So much information! This will be helpful when I begin to prune my plants. Thank you

  3. Fabulous pruning guude for SoCal native plants--I like the MB botanical guide too. Thank you SO much for sharing this, it's really helpful.