Step 1: Plan for Future Growth
Elder is a vigorous plant—most of the growth seen here was made during the previous year. In alternate years all the stems can be pruned back in early spring to a low framework near its base.
Step 2: Remove Flowering Stems
Prune each stem back to two or three pairs of buds above the base of the previous year’s wood. Although you will get the best foliage by pruning in this way, you are also removing the flowering stems.
Step 3: Trim the Old Wood
Cut old, congested wood in the center of the plant right down to the ground. Also remove any stems that are badly positioned, or growing toward the middle.
Step 4: Make Smooth, Clean Cuts
Use loppers on all branches that are more than 1⁄2 in (1 cm) in diameter. Use a curved pruning saw on very thick branches, or where you need to make a cut in an awkward spot.
Step 5: Maintain Your Pruning
Pruning will encourage vigorous growth, despite the finished result looking sparse. Now the flowering stems have been removed, this spring-flowering plant will not bloom or produce berries this year.
Step 6: The Payoff
By early summer, the elder’s stems will have grown by 3 ft (1 m) or more, and the fresh, beautifully variegated leaves will unfurl to make a compact, eye-catching feature in the garden.
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Follow these steps to prune shrubs that flower before midsummer.