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Update on Russian Sage Pruning

In April, I covered three different methods to prune Russian sage. Pruning method is important to consider because different methods yield different results.

Be sure to watch my video that shows you the two best methods to prune Russian sage in spring.

To help you decide which method to use in the future, I’ve taken some pictures of Russian sage plants in June that were pruned using different methods in spring. How do they look today?

Not pruned at all

Russian sage not pruned.

When a Russian sage is not pruned at all, the dead growth obscures the new growth.

This photo illustrates why it’s important to do something. Doing nothing yields terrible results. Remember, Russian sage is a subshrub. The top portion of the plant dies back while new growth appears from the lower portion.

When the dead portion is not removed, you can’t see the new growth. The old grey stems hide the new flower spikes. You lose much of the plant’s appeal.

If you have a Russian sage shrub that wasn’t pruned in spring, you can still remove the old growth at this time of year. Just check out this post and use option three.

Cut to new growth

Russian sage pruned to new growth

Russian sage pruned to new growth leaves old woody stems behind.

Here are two Russian sage plants that were pruned to the new growth. You can see this method removes all the dead material. That’s a good thing. The drawback of this method is the lower stems are never renewed. See how the lower stems have become thick and woody?

Eventually, very few leaves emerge from the lower portion of the woody stems. You’ll notice that the new growth is emerging from the tops of the old stems, but the plant’s shape is asymmetrical.

These plants are healthy; they just don’t look that great. To renew these plants, try cutting all stems to the ground next year before they leaf out.

Cut to about 18 inches tall

Pruned Russian sage

When Russian sage is pruned to about 18 inches tall, some stubs of dead stems may remain.

Here’s an example of a plant that was pruned to about 18 inches tall before the new growth emerged. The gardener ended up cutting off most of the dead material. The plant looks pretty uniform. However, some stubs of dead stems remained since the plant died back farther than the height at which they cut.

In another month or so, the new growth will get taller and cover up the old stems. Although it doesn’t look too bad, it could look better. You could cut the old stems to the new growth now to improve the plant’s appearance. Since our Colorado summers are so short, it’s nice for our landscape plants to look their best when things are green.

Cut to about 36 inches tall

Hedge trimmed Russian sage.

Russian sage hedge trimmed 36 inches above the ground leaves too much of the dead growth.

I found this Russian sage in a commercial landscape. It looks like someone really didn’t know what to do, so they used a hedge trimmer to buzz the plant about 36 inches above the ground.

Bad idea. Russian sage usually dies back much farther than that. A lot of dead growth was left behind, leaving a messy-looking shrub that does nothing to enhance the entrance to the property. A better approach would have been to either cut it to the ground in March or cut it to the new growth after it leafed out.

Cut to the ground

As you can see, this method results in attractive, uniform, fresh growth. Notice all the new growth has supple, green stems. Even though this plant is about four years old, it looks healthy and new.

Russian sage after cut to ground.

When Russian sage is cut to the ground, it regrows fresh, uniform stems.

It can be worrisome to cut a large plant to the ground, but the results are worth it. Don’t use this method in mid-summer. You need to cut it back before the new leaves start growing. March is a good time.

This approach has two advantages. First, it removes all the stems that died over the winter. Second, it removes all the brown, woody stems at the base of the plant, so it looks rejuvenated. You end up with a Russian sage that looks vigorous, tidy, and uniform. Pruning method matters!

If you’re wondering when to prune Russian sage, check out this post about spring versus fall pruning.

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2 Responses to Update on Russian Sage Pruning

  1. Lysette September 3, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Thank you for all the great information. Is it ok to prune Russian Sage in the Fall?

    • Catherine September 11, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      I like to prune Russian sage in the spring because it’s a lot easier to tell how far the stalks have died back over the winter. Every winter is different in Colorado, which means it’s hard to predict how landscape plants will respond. But, you could do it in the fall if you need to. Some people who are out of town in the spring like to tidy up their plants in the fall. Or, if you’ve had a bad problem with Russian sage seedlings coming up in your yard, you could prevent that by cutting off the seed heads in the fall. If the stalks die back farther than your fall pruning cuts, you’ll need to come back in spring or early summer and take the stalks back to new growth. If you try it, be sure to let us all know what happens!

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