How to Prune Pieris – Lily of the Valley Bush. 

The group of Pieris shrubs fall into the very easy to prune category, because basically they do not need to be pruned – unless we gardeners have done something wrong, or there has been some form of damage. The Pieris are closely related to the Rhododendrons – sharing the same likes and dislikes as most others in the Ericaceous family.

Pruning Pieris can generally be confined to dead heading the flowers before they set seed and generally start to look a little untidy. Pieris tend to flower in March, through until early April, but in some seasons a little earlier.

The drooping clusters of tight bell flowers resemble the flowers of the Lily of the Valley – hence one of its common names.

Pieris are normally hardy in the right situation, but because of the timing of their flowering period, can be affected by hard frosts. The same is true of the flaming red young foliage for which the shrubs are better known.

When to Prune Pieris Shrubs.

Unless you are wishing to save seed, then Pieris should have the old flower sprays nipped off at the base. This will both tidy up the shrub in readiness for the spectacular new foliage, and also strengthen the plant by stopping it from setting seed.

Simply cut off all the stems of faded blooms with secateurs, but do not cut back into the main branch unless intending to restrict the size or shape. If Pieris are pruned in summer or autumn, they will forfeit the flowers for the following year, but otherwise suffer no damage.

However, pruning should not take place after the end of august, for this can initiate new shoots which will invariably be damaged in the following winter.

In frost prone areas that suffer from late frosts, the new shoots of the Pieris foliage can be blackened to the extent of spoiling the foliage display. If this is the case, prune off the frost-damaged shoots, back into the supporting branch. It will then send out another flush of shoots which can be as colourful as the dead frost-damaged shoots.

Hard Pruning and Remedial Pruning of Pieris.

If the shrub has outgrown its position, Pieris can be cut back to shape, or even hard pruned to rejuvenate the whole shrub. This is best carried out in early to late spring, but I have been successful to regenerate Pieris by cutting back hard in late winter.

This will invariably mean a loss of flowers for a year or two, but will have the advantage of successive flushes of colourful new shoots, as the shrub will quite rapidly try to attain the size it was before the pruning operation. Pieris respond vigorously to hard pruning, and will soon recover with a good shape and dense habit of growth.

Pieris Care Guide: How to Grow Forest Flame

Pieris Care

Pieris is a hardy shrub that can survive very low winter temperatures. Occasionally, a late frost may burn new growth and flowers which affects the wonderful spring display. Protecting your plant from late frosts with a fleece can prevent this. In a sheltered part of the garden, it will probably be fine.

Light requirements

In their original habitat of forested mountains, these plants would have experienced dappled shade, and this is what they prefer. Strong sunlight, especially in spring, can damage new growth. Strong sunlight can also prevent them from flowering as abundantly and may result in new growth being less intensely coloured. For this reason, choose a dappled shade environment that mimics their forest home.

Water requirements

Your plant will need regular watering until it becomes established. Thereafter it will only need watering during prolonged spells of dry weather. Never leave your Pieris sitting in waterlogged soil.

Soil requirements

Pieris need acid soil. If you have an alkaline soil you will need to grow your plant in a container with ericaceous compost. A neutral soil can be made more acid by the addition of ericaceous compost and a yearly mulch of well-rotted pine needles. But this will need to be repeated regularly to keep your plant in good health.

They do not like to be waterlogged and prefer a rich but well-drained soil, much as their natural habitat would have provided.

Fertiliser requirements

Even when planted in an acid soil, these plants will benefit from an annual mulch of well-rotted pine needles. In addition, plants may benefit from a dose of fertilizer suitable for ericaceous species in spring. Yellowing leaves are a sign of nutrient deficiency so if your plant shows signs of this it may need an additional dose of fertiliser.

Container-grown plants should be fed with a fertilizer suitable for ericaceous species.


Plant your Pieris to the same depth as it is in the pot and keep well-watered until it is established and putting on new growth. Your shrub will need extra watering in its first season, thereafter it will only need watering in prolonged dry spells.

Growing Pieris in Containers

Compact varieties do well in containers. Choose a container slightly larger than the pot your plant came in. Put few shards of terracotta pot in the base of the pot to prevent the drainage holes from becoming blocked. Pot up in ericaceous compost. Raising the pot on feet, bricks or stones can also help with drainage.

Plants in pots are particularly susceptible to drying out so keep an eye on them all year round. They will need feeding with a liquid fertilizer suitable for ericaceous plants in spring.

Repotting – how to

You will need to repot your shrub every couple of years as it grows. Choose a pot slightly larger than the rootball of your existing plant and add fresh ericaceous compost.


Removing faded flowers will encourage your plant to put its energy into new growth rather than producing seeds. Cut off all the stems of spent blooms with clean secateurs.

To conserve moisture, prevent weeds, keep the roots moist and retain the acidity of the soil, you should mulch with well-rotted pine needles or ericaceous compost, keeping the mulch a few inches away from the base of the plant to prevent rotting.

You can feed your plant with an ericaceous fertilizer in spring at the same time as other acid-loving plants such as camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Pruning advice

Pieris does not require much pruning as it is a slow-growing plant. To keep your plant in good condition simply remove any dead branches. If you do wish to prune your shrub this should be done immediately after flowering to ensure you do not lose next year’s blooms.

You can prune your Pieris to keep it to a certain size or to improve its shape. This should be done after flowering. If you prune your shrub in summer or autumn, you will not get any flowers the following spring. In addition, it will encourage new shoots which will not have a chance to harden off before winter and well may be damaged by frost. However, in the long run, the plant will not be harmed.

If your plant is damaged by frost you can prune off the damaged shoots back to a supporting branch. Your plant will then put on another flush of growth, so you will hopefully still get a good display of colourful foliage.

You can also encourage new growth by cutting some of the longer branches back by half. This will encourage a second flush of new attractive coloured growth. You will, however, sacrifice flowers on that branch next spring.

Remedial Pruning of Pieris

If your Pieris has outgrown its position or become misshapen you can prune it back hard, preferably in late spring. You may not get any flowers for a couple of years after this, however, you should get plenty of fresh, coloured foliage as the plant will put on new growth to compensate for the loss. Your plant will respond well to a hard cut back and will soon recover a good shape and dense growth.

How to Prune Small Trees and Shrubs

There’s a right time—and a right way— to prune. Click the arrow below to see diagrams of pruning cuts

Photo by Reena Bammi

Don’t Be Afraid to Make the Cut.

A few minutes spent pruning is one of the best things you can do for the plants in your yard, but it’s one of the most neglected tasks of homeowning. Why? Because for most of us, it’s a black art. The risks of butchery seem high, and the rewards low. “But pruning isn’t difficult,” says This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook. “And what you get in return is thicker foliage, more flowers, and healthier plants.” Here we show you a few simple pruning techniques and how to apply them to the shrubs and small trees on your property. Once you’ve mastered them, it’s just a matter of timing. “Most homeowners prune when it’s convenient for them, but that might not be the best time for the plant,” adds Roger. Consulting the plant lists will take the mystery out of this part of pruning as well. Keep reading to learn how you can get the job done with confidence.

Heading cuts remove only part of a shoot or limb and encourage side branching and dense growth. The cut should be made just beyond a healthy bud, angled at 45 degrees and facing away from the bud. Note that new shoots will grow in the direction the bud is pointing.

Illustration by Susan Carlson

Pruning Flowering Shrubs.

Young shrubs should be pruned lightly to make them grow fuller and bushier. With hand pruners, trim long, unbranched stems by cutting just above a healthy bud. This type of pruning, called heading, encourages lower side branches to develop and enhances the shrub’s natural form. When selecting a bud tip to trim to, keep in mind that the new branch will grow out in the direction of the bud. Like most pruning, heading cuts should be timed to avoid disrupting the plant’s flowering.

As a shrub develops, thin out old, weak, rubbing, or wayward branches where they merge with another branch. This opens up the middle of the plant to more sunlight, which keeps interior branches healthy, stimulates growth, and increases flowering.

Thinning cuts remove an entire branch where it meets another limb, the main stem, or the ground. They should be made as close to this junction as possible. These cuts help maintain the plant’s natural shape, limit its size, and open up the interior branches to light and air.

Illustration by Susan Carlson

Older and Neglected Shrubs

Older shrubs that have become a tangle of unproductive stems may require a more extensive program of thinning cuts, called renewal or renovation pruning, that takes at least three years. On shrubs with multiple stems that grow up from the base, like lilac, viburnum, forsythia, and dogwood, gradually remove all of the old stems while leaving the new, flower-producing growth untouched. Eventually, the new flower-producing stems will completely replace the lackluster old growth.

Neglected shrubs may call for a more drastic approach: hard pruning. Most deciduous shrubs that respond well to renewal pruning can also take hard pruning, as will a handful of broadleaf evergreens, such as privet. Using loppers and a pruning saw, cut back all stems to within an inch of the ground during the plant’s winter dormancy. (For more on the correct tools to use, see Choosing and Using Pruners and Loppers) Come spring, the plants will quickly produce new shoots from the base. Of course, this technique will leave you with little to look at while waiting for the new growth.

Remove one-third of the plant’s stems, cutting at the base. This opens up its interior to air and sunlight and encourages new branch and leaf growth.

Illustration by Susan Carlson

Pruning Small Flowering Trees.

Avoid pruning a young or newly planted tree — it needs as many leaves as possible to produce the food required for good root growth. Remove only dead, broken, or injured branches, as well as those that cross or rub each other. And always prune back to a healthy stem or branch without leaving stubs. This eliminates hiding places for pests and diseases, and looks better. Never cut back the plant’s leader — the top-most growing point of the tree — which is vital to letting the tree develop its natural form.

What to Prune from a Tree

A. Suckers that grow from the roots or base of the trunk

B. Limbs that sag or grow close to the ground

C. Branches that form an acute angle with the trunk

D. Watersprouts that shoot up from main “scaffold” branches

E. Limbs that are dead, diseased, or broken

F. Branches that grow parallel to and too close to another

G. Branches that cross or rub against others

H. Limbs that compete with the tree’s central leader

Once the tree is a few years old, shape it gradually over the course of several years to maximize foliage and flowering. The tree’s branches should be well-spaced up the trunk and spiraling around it. As a guideline, prune no more than one-fourth of the tree’s total leaf area in a single year. To raise the tree’s crown or create clearance beneath it, remove the lowest branches. Also target branches that are spaced too closely together or that join the trunk at a narrow angle — 45 degrees or less. These form weak limb attachments and will break easily in wind or under the weight of snow and ice.

Cut away additional old stems while leaving newly formed stems intact. The shrub is now made up of mostly new growth that is ready to flower.

Illustration by Susan Carlson

When Removing an Entire Tree Branch

Cut as close to the branch collar — the swollen ring of bark where the limb meets the main stem or trunk — as possible without cutting into it. When cutting branches more than 1 inch in diameter, avoid tearing or stripping bark by using a pruning saw and the three-cut method shown below. A good pruning cut will heal quickly and naturally without the use of dressings or poultices.

Three-cut branch removal

To prune a tree limb cleanly and safely, as shown in the image above, use a pruning saw and make these three sequential cuts:

1. On the bottom of the limb between 6 and 12 inches from the trunk; cut about one-quarter of the way through.

2. Through the limb from the top, starting about 1 inch beyond the first cut. (The weight of the branch may cause it to snap off before the cut is complete.)

3. Completely through the short remaining stub from top to bottom just beyond the swollen branch collar. (Support the stub while sawing, to make a clean cut.)

Remove fast-growing stems, called suckers, that grow up from the roots or the base of the trunk as they appear, as well as the extravigorous (and often weakly attached) shoots, called watersprouts, that grow straight up from the trunk or branches.

Mature trees require only occasional pruning to maintain their structure and appearance. Never make the mistake of cutting off the top of a tree’s canopy to reduce its size. Topping typically leaves the tree much less attractive and much more prone to weak growth and pests.

What to prune: A. Suckers that grow from the roots or base of the trunk; B. Limbs that sag or grow close to the ground; C. Branches that form an acute angle with the trunk; D. Watersprouts that shoot up from main “scaffold” branches; E. Limbs that are dead, diseased, or broken; F. Branches that grow parallel to and too close to another; G. Branches that cross or rub against others; H. Limbs that compete with the tree’s central leader

Illustration by Susan Carlson

Pruning Conifers.

Needle-leafed evergreens fall into two basic groups: random branching and whorled branching. Each requires a different pruning technique.

Evergreens with random-branching patterns — arborvitae, hemlock, juniper, and yew — should be pruned in the same manner as a flowering tree or shrub. Use heading cuts to encourage dense growth and thinning cuts made close to the trunk to maintain the tree’s shape. One important difference: Heading cuts will only sprout new branches if the remaining branch still has needles growing on it.

Whorled-branching evergreens — fir, spruce, and pine — are quite different. These plants have pale growth buds, called candles, that develop at the branch tips in the spring. Instead of making heading cuts, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the new, light-colored growths while they’re still soft. This will maintain plant size and produce denser growth. You won’t want to make thinning cuts to whorled-branching evergreens — they will produce a dead snag, not new growth. The only exception is spruce trees: They have side buds that will sprout if trimmed back to the previous year’s growth.

Three-cut branch removal: 1. On the bottom of the limb between 6 and 12 inches from the trunk; cut about one-quarter of the way through; 2. Through the limb from the top, starting about 1 inch beyond the first cut. (The weight of the branch may cause it to snap off before the cut is complete.); 3. Completely through the short remaining stub from top to bottom just beyond the swollen branch collar.

Illustration by Susan Carlson

When to Prune

There is important pruning that can be done anytime — namely, the removal of dead, weak, damaged, or crossing branches. But poorly timed pruning, like that done in the fall or early winter, can injure a plant and stunt or even eliminate its foliage and flower production. What follows are the three recommended pruning “seasons” for various common trees and shrubs across the country. Stick to this schedule to keep plants healthy and maximize blossoms. When in doubt, Roger Cook suggests, postpone pruning until right after the plant flowers.

Late Winter/Early Spring

Prune summer-flowering plants, which will flower on the coming season’s new growth, while they are still dormant. Their bare limbs make it easy to see the plant’s structure, and the flush of spring growth will quickly heal wounds. Prune random-branching conifers once new growth is visible.


Beautyberry (Callicarpa species)

Bumald spiraea (Spiraea bumalda)

Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)

Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides)

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii)

Japanese spiraea (Spiraea japonica)

Nandina (Nandina domestica)

Privet (Ligistrum species)

Repeat-flowering roses (Rosa species)

Rose-of-Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

Summersweet (Clethra species)

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

Late Winter/Early Spring (cont.)


Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia species)

Sweet olive (Osmanthus fragrans)

Golden-rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata)

Sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana)

Random-branching conifers

Arborvitae (Thuja species)

Cypress (Cupressus species)

Hemlock (Tsuga species)

Juniper (Juniperus species)

Southern yew (Podocarpus macrophyllus)

True cedar (Cedrus species)

Yew (Cephalotaxus and Taxus species)

Late Spring/Early Summer

Prune spring-flowering plants immediately after their blossoms fade. Because they produce flowers only on old growth from the previous season, pruning soon after bloom will maximize flower production the next year. Pinch the candles on whorled-branching conifers when you see new growth.


Azalea (Rhododendron species)

Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)

Bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Bridal wreath spiraea (Spiraea prunifolia)

Common lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Deutzia (Deutzia species)

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles species)

Forsythia (Forsythia species)

Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)

Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica)

Mock orange (Philadelphus species)

Rhododendron (Rhododendron species)

Weigela (Weigela florida)

Late Spring/Early Summer (cont.)


Flowering almond (Prunus species)

Flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata)

Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

Ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana)

Redbud (Cercis species)

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia soulangiana)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier species)

Star magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis species)

Whorled-branching Conifers Fir (Abies species)

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla)

Pine (Pinus species)

Spruce (Picea species)


Prune “bleeding” trees — those with exceptionally heavy spring sap flow — after their leaves have fully developed.

Birch (Betula species)

Dogwood (Cornus species)

Elm (Ulmus species)

Maple (Acer species)

Yellowwood (Cladrastis lutea)


Our thanks to:

Deborah Brown, University of Minnesota Extension horticulturist

Landscape Contractor:

Roger Cook

K & R Tree and Landscape

Burlington, MA

For more information:

The Pruning Book

by Lee Reich

Taunton Press

Newtown, CT

A feather of an eagle dipped in Soma, the elixir of the Gods, falls to earth and from it springs a tree with magical properties – The Flame of the Forest.

The Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma), found extensively in Kabini, is native to India and is usually between twenty to forty feet in height. Characterized by its crooked trunk and twisted and irregular branches, it is not the most endearing of sights. Come January and it bursts forth with a riot of orange and vermilion flowers that covers its entire crown. In its dry deciduous forest home, it looks like it’s on fire and It should therefore come as no surprise that it is considered to be a form of Agni – the God of Fire.

Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

Closely associated with Hinduism, its tri-foliate leaves are said to represent the Hindu Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Its leaves are used in various religious ceremonies such as the blessing of calves to ensure that they yield good milk. The wood of the tree is considered sacrificial and its dry twigs are used in the sacred fire or Homa. The wood is also used to make utensils that are used in religious functions such as the ladle that is used to pour Ghee into the sacred flame. The staff that is placed in the hand of a Brahmin boy at the time of his thread ceremony is also made from the wood of the Flame of the Forest. When he renounces the world to become a Sadhu, he is made to either eat a leaf of the tree or to eat off a plate made from its leaves.

Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

The flowers of the Flame of the Forest are used to make a dye which is used during the festival of Holi. As red is the colour of passion, a young man smearing a woman’s face with the dye has powerful erotic significance. In Indian poetry the flowers are compared to the new nail marks on the body of the beloved while Amir Khusru, the Sufi Saint, compares the flowers of the tree to a lion’s claw stained with blood.

In the real world, the tree is considered a medicinal plant as it balances Vata and Pitta. It is used extensively in Ayurveda, Unani and Homeopathy. Extracts from various parts of the tree possess a host of properties including anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, astringent, tonic, aphrodisiac and diuretic properties.

Photograph: Vikram Nanjappa

In the dry deciduous forests of India, it is a vital lifeline for a large number of species as it is one of the few trees that flower during the dry season when food is scarce, making it truly a gift from the Gods.

‘Flame of the forest’ in full bloom

Much before the onset of summer, Butea Monosperma , popularly known as ‘Flame of the forest’ is in full bloom in rural parts of the district presenting an enchanting sight.

The blooming of this flower also heralds Spring season. From a distance, it’s like seeing a brightly lit torch, given its bright orange colour.

These trees are distinct as they wear more flowers than leaves. During this season children in rural areas mash the flowers to extract juice, which is then used as colour to sprinkle on each other on Holi, the festival of colours. Though people cultivate this tree in their compounds, they are mostly found in the wilderness.

In Telangana region, these flowers are used in the worship of Lord Shiva on Sivaratri. In Telugu, this tree is called Moduga chettu. The colour extracted from these flowers is used as dye and also has medicinal properties. The Moduga tree also has a mythological background and it is said that this tree is a form of Agni, the god of fire. V. Visweswar Reddy of Gannaram village in Wardhannapet mandal says the blooming of Moduga brings joy and cheers to children in village. “In the past, villagers would collect these flowers for various purposes. However, people are gradually losing interest in these things now,” he laments.

Flame of the Forest, Parrot Tree, Bastard Teak

View this plant in a garden



Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun



Provides Winter Interest

Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us


20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

30-40 ft. (9-12 m)


30-40 ft. (9-12 m)


USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us


Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:

Scarlet (dark red)


Gold (yellow-orange)

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Winter/Early Spring

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From seed; germinate in vitro in gelatin, agar or other medium

Self-sows freely; deadhead if you do not want volunteer seedlings next season

Seed Collecting:

Collect seedhead/pod when flowers fade; allow to dry

Allow pods to dry on plant; break open to collect seeds

Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Spring Valley, California

Homestead, Florida

Mulberry, Florida

Pompano Beach, Florida

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