Pruning a Pieris: From Sloppy Shrub to Manicured Evergreen

The pieris shrub: do you love it or hate it? I started out on the hate side but am coming around to the “maybe it’s not so bad” side.

On the one hand, it is a flowering evergreen, it seems to grow fast, and if I planted a few more it would create a nice privacy hedge. But is it ugly?

This is before pruning:

Before pruning a pieris shrub

My first thought was a resounding YES. When left unchecked, the pieris becomes a big mess of a thing with sagging branches in a shapeless blob.

But since I’ve been trying to maintain the character and bones of this house and its landscaping—ivy excluded—I decided to give the pieris a makeover. Plus I’m guessing it would be a nightmare to cut and dig it out of here.

The good news is that with some trimming you can turn a pieris into an ornamental tree-like evergreen.

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How to Trim a Pieris

Grab a lopper to tackle the lower branches first, cutting them close to the trunk. The goal is to expose the trunk to make your pieris look like a tree with the foliage on top.

Snipping lower branches off a pieris shrub
Snip away the lower branches.

With each cut, the upper branches will dump all sorts of plant refuse on you, while a number of buzzing things fly around your head and snakes hide in the brush below.

Or am I the only one worried about snakes? My pieris makes its home in the bottom of my yard where I’ve been storing dead ivy and yard debris for the past four years. It’s a snake haven.

I encourage you to be brave, though. The results will be worth it.

You might come across some lower branches that are too thick for your lopper. During my first attempt at pruning this pieris, I left the thick branches sticking out half a foot or so like this. Yuck.

Shrub pruning gone wrong
Pruning gone wrong…these branches should be cut closer to the trunk.

This is ugly, hazardous for walkers-by, and not great for the shrub. It’s better to cut the branches closer to the trunk so they can heal (and not hurt my eyes). Looks like an opportunity to use a tree saw, and I recently learned that I LOVE saws.

Saws give you a major power boost. I used to struggle cutting thick branches with pruning shears. Don’t do it. Your saw is fun, and you can triple your output and slice away branches with ease.

When I discovered my previous eye-hazard branch mistake this week, I took out the saw and had these 6-inch branches gone in no time. I sliced from the bottom to remove them without hurting the trunk.

Pruning a pieris shrub
Confession: I didn’t have a tree saw available so I used a hand saw instead. Totally worked, but not ideal.

Topping Off the Pieris

Once you have your trunk just the way you want it, all you need to do is clean up the poof ball foliage. The pieris tends to shoot branches straight up every spring, so once a year it needs a haircut.

Set up an a-frame ladder next to your pieris and pull out your lopper again. Snip away the loner branches that are sticking out in weird places. Also look for dead stick branches that don’t have any foliage on them and trim them away. You should be left with a nice round shape.

The end result is almost worthy of a Dr. Seuss book. It reminds me of one of those dogs that’s sort of cute and sort of not. What do you think? Over the years, it has grown on me.

Pieris shrub after pruning
Better, right?

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