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Originally published March 14, 2013 at 5:00 AM | Page modified March 15, 2013 at 12:59 PM

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Cutting moody Daphne, spreading Spiraea back into shape

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris discusses best pruning methods for sometimes unwieldy Daphne and Japanese Spiraea.

Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Seattle Tilth March Edible Plant Sale: Organically grown veggies, herbs, edible flowers, fruit shrubs/trees and seeds. Early bird sale, 6-7:30 p.m. Friday, $25; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, free; Pacific Market Center parking garage, 6100 Fourth Ave. S. (www.seattletilth.org).

Meerkerk Gardens’ Big Spring Rhodie Sale: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Meerkerk Garden, 3531 Meerkerk Lane, Greenbank on Whidbey Island (www.meerkerkgardens.org).

Backyard-habitat classes:‘Attracting Birds to Your Backyard’: 7-9 p.m. Wednesday. Five classes total in the Woodland Park Zoo series; $25 per person per class or $100 per person for the five-part series if you register before 3 p.m. on the first class day (www.zoo.org/backyardhabitat).

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In the Garden

Q: I have a Daphne odora that has grown over a walkway. I’ve heard they’re temperamental. How far back can I prune it without hurting it?

A: Daphne odora is indeed a temperamental shrub. It’s one of those odd plants that can die for no reason even if you plant it in perfect conditions and attend to its every need; likewise, it can flourish for years in a totally inappropriate situation with no care at all. Even one that is thriving might die suddenly on the morning of your annual garden party, just to show you who’s boss!

Despite their unpredictable nature, Daphne odora generally respond well to pruning. I’ve personally cut several, which had become leggy and bare, practically to the base in order to successfully force lower branching. Do the pruning immediately after the flowers are spent, and cut back to lateral branches or to just above buds on upward facing branches.

New branches normally occur at just below where the point cuts are made, so prune to buds at varying heights to encourage balanced growth at different levels. Make sure to use a lot of artistry when pruning your Daphne odora. If it doesn’t like how it looks after you’re finished, it will undoubtedly die, just to teach you a lesson!

Q: My ‘Gold Mound’ Japanese Spiraea has gotten so big it’s crowding out neighboring plants in my border. When and how should I prune it to keep it in bounds?

A: Japanese Spiraea (Spiraea japonica) is a beautiful deciduous shrub. Many varieties feature colorful foliage, and in summer they’re covered with wide clusters of tiny flowers loved by butterflies.

Spiraea is one durable plant. They thrive in most any kind of soil, are drought tolerant as a rock, and hardy to about 40 below zero. They’re so tough, I’m convinced you could run one over with a garbage truck and it would thank you for giving it a massage!

The only problem I have with these versatile shrubs is, just as you discovered, they always seem to get bigger than you want them to. They can grow to over 4 feet tall and wide if you let them go.

Fortunately, Japanese Spiraea can easily be kept a reasonable size with hard pruning. Every March, cut the entire shrub back by two-thirds or more. You don’t have to worry about where you make your cuts, but the shrub will grow back more attractively if you prune the branches into a dome shape.

Despite such a hard pruning, you’ll be surprised how fast your Spiraea will grow back in one season. Be prepared to do a little summer pruning of side branches as needed to prevent it from bullying its neighboring plants.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING5.

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