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To prune or not to prune: Chinese Fringe Flower

photo of Chinese Fringe flower
Chinese fringe flower in need of pruning. Prune up or prune down? That's the question Taylor Lewis nursery manager asks and answers.

By Taylor Lewis, nursery manager, Arboretum Teaching Nursery

Today (11/29/19), I noticed that my Chinese fringe flower (Lorapetalum chinensis) was in need of a haircut. This is a specimen currently located in the demonstration planting beds adjacent to the Arboretum Teaching Nursery. Because I inherited it, I’m unsure which cultivar it is; my best guess is Lorapetalum chinensis ‘Razzleberry’. 

I’d been keeping it pruned down and outwards at about 4-5’ so that I could see over the top of the shrub. Today it was about 6 1/2’ and I had to make the decision: prune it up or prune it down? By up I mean lift the branches up to show off the nice trunk work they can have. By down I mean prune off those upper shoots and reduce the height under 5’ again. 

Since I’ve been raising it to eventually prune up, I figured it was time to go to work!

Day 1

I cut my way inside and under the shrub to see what I was going on "under the hood." I found six vertical main trunks and one coming out at a strange angle; we’ll come back to that. 

What I found "under the hood" of this large, happy Razzleberry!

First, I removed much of the dead leafless sticks that are pervasive inside most any shrub, primarily using my fingers to snap them off. Second, I used my Felcos (hand pruners) to remove the larger, greener, yet crossing branches and also the bottom 18-24” of branches around the skirt. 

I am mostly liking what I see: fairly open form with nice vase-like growth starting around 20”. What I don’t like are the two branches growing towards me as they’re much more immediately horizontal than the other 85% of the trunks. Those two branches are a big chunk of the sidewalk and street view. Removing them will really change the shape. I need to think it over. I’ll clean up tonight and look again with fresh eyes tomorrow; plus I’m losing light.

photo of razzleberry.
Letting the light in by opening things up.

Day 2

I bet you saw this coming?

photo of razzleberry.
Once I pruned up, I had a whole other space to put more plants!

I couldn’t rationalize keeping the two branches. One, they would need to be trimmed anyway to keep them off the sidewalk. And two, it looked unbalanced. Looks like I might need to add more bark mulch. So far I've planted three Hellebores which love the shade this perennial throws.

Photo of prunned Raffleberry.
New view!

That really opened up the area. I’ve created a whole new planting bed and now will consider what else to add.

Thanks for reading!