Trim & Prune


Spring is the season of new beginnings for Lowcountry lawns and gardens. Though our low-nutrient sandy soil, wildlife intrusion, and hot and humid summers make lush lawns and gardens challenging, spring is a time when hope sprouts eternal. 

It helps that many native trees, shrubs and plants have adapted over time to these less-than-ideal conditions. 

Garden2“We live on a sandbar; there’s not a lot about our soil that’s very elegant,” said Tim Drake, business development and landscape enhancement designer at The Greenery on Hilton Head. “If you’re planting the right plants that tolerate the poor soils we have, or if your garden generally looks good, you don’t really need to worry about the soil.”

Regardless of your lawn’s current health, now is the time to focus on cleaning up your property.

“First and foremost, survey your garden and make sure you get all of the winter weeds out and get rid of debris,” said Mary Ann Bruno, who owns Bruno Landscape and Nursery on Hilton Head with her husband, Gary.

Regardless of your lawn’s current health, now is the time to focus on cleaning up your property.

That includes removing dead or damaged branches and dead leaves, last year’s dried-out mulch and other debris, and cleaning out the flower beds. 

“It’s kind of a housecleaning primp for the big jump in the spring,” said Mark Woodruff, owner of Carolyn’s Landscaping and whose Windmill Harbour home was featured in last year’s All Saints Garden Tour. “You have that transition from cleanout, spruce up, prune up, organics. It’s kind of a basic approach at this time of year. … If you haven’t done it yet, it’s not too late.”

Garden4Be sure to prune plants and shrubs by removing dead or diseased branches and then trim the plants to the desired size, shape and form for your overall landscaping scheme. Seasonal pruning of pampas grass and crepe myrtles and renewal pruning of overgrown woody shrubs also are advised, Drake said.

“You can selectively prune bigger tree forms to see if they’re growing the way you want them to grow,” said Bruno, whose company is celebrating its 30th year in business.

Next up, turn over the garden soil to enhance its oxygen intake and add organic material to the top layer, Woodruff said. Fertilize shrubs and perennials around the base of the dripline, not in the neck. Then apply mulch for moisture retention and to boost the soil’s overall health.

But don’t touch the turf until it starts spring greening, or you’ll risk stimulating fungal organisms.


“Early spring is when you fertilize” for better growth and the blooming of plants and to reduce the intrusion of diseases and insects, Bruno said. 

Once the soil warms and the lawn grass starts to show its spring color, fertilize.

“You want your lawn to transition on its own,” Bruno said. 

Look at your garden with a discerning eye before making any decisions about new plantings. Is everything in the right place since last year, or are changes needed? 

“Tackle your big stuff first and then start your layering effect,” Bruno said.


But what should you plant?

“Anything zoned for this zone, which is 8B semi-tropical,” Woodruff said. “Anything for zones 8B or 9 would work. The most important thing is the right plant for the right environment.”

That means some plants just won’t thrive in the Lowcountry.

“You can’t grow everything here,” Drake said. “You can’t grow lilacs, you can’t grow pansies, you can’t grow rhododendrons; stick with what’s what tried and true here like … some types of azaleas.”

Other favorites for spring planting: magnolias, redbuds, Chinese dogwoods, salvias, geraniums, marigolds, begonias, bush daisies, butterfly bushes and foxtail ferns. Of course, you’ll want to consider where you’ll be planting — whether it’s a sunny spot or a shady one, what the drainage is like and if there is room for roots to spread out, for example.

Bruno’s mantra for a healthy lawn and garden is simple: “Plants are like people. If you take care of them and give them nutrients they’re missing, you’re going to produce better.”








Pruning Lowcountry plants and shrubs can be an art form, but there are tips that will help you succeed: 

  • Seasonal or “selective” pruning removes dead or diseased branches and those that touch or cross one another. Try to cut in areas screened by leaves so that your cuts aren’t visible. Make sure to leave some growth or leaf nodes behind the cut. This encourages new growth, produces a fuller plant and allows light to reach inside the shrub. 
  • Renewal planting refers to drastically cutting back unwieldly, overgrown plants. Broadleaf shrubs like azaleas and camellias respond well to this approach. Cut shrubs down to within 6 to 12 inches of ground level.
  • Narrow-leaf evergreens like boxwoods do not like to be pruned, so transplanting them is a better option.
  • Prune flowering shrubs after they bloom; prune non-flowering shrubs when they are dormant.
  • Pruning stimulates growth and often yields an abundance of flowers, fruit and foliage. New shoots result in large, beautiful flowers, while old shoots support the plant’s structure.