Rejuvenating An Unsightly, Twiggy Potentilla Shrub

Potentilla shrubs, with their cheery, sunshine-colored flowers, are beautiful landscape plants. They thrive in full sun, blooming beautifully even in hot, dry exposures. After all, they’re native in some of North Dakota and Minnesota’s toughest sites.

Much good can be said of all the pretty potentilla varieties, except when they become a mass of twiggy stems, bare at the base, overgrown, poorly blooming, and lacking the lush green foliage they once had. Then they’re best described as unsightly. It’s a common complaint.

The remedy is easy, and it keeps potentilla on the much-recommended shrub list. They are easily rejuvenated back to their original beauty.

How to rejuvenate a potentilla that no longer looks attractive: 

  • The key to potentilla beauty is pruning them back severely every 3 to 4 years.
  • A drastic cutback removes the proliferation of old woody twigs and branches that seem to stifle generous new growth.
  • Rejuvenation pruning is best done in early spring before the potentilla leafs out. Depending on the year, pruning in late March through mid-April is usually appropriate. 
  • Prune the shrubs back severely, removing at least three-fourths of the height, and thinning out the proliferation of branches arising from the base, cutting out at least half of the largest diameter, old, woody branches down to ground level, leaving mainly healthy-looking medium-sized branches.
  • I’ve experience best success by pruning potentillas back to about 4 t0 6 inches above ground level, which stimulates fresh new growth, while eliminating much of the woody, twiggy mess.
  • This isn’t the time to be timid. If one is dubious, and only trims back a little, the potentilla is still leggy and twiggy, only shorter. A dramatic cutback is what’s needed. 
  • Because potentilla flower on ‘new’ wood that grows during the current season, they’ll even bloom beautifully the first season of rejuvenation.
  • Enjoy your ‘new’ old potentilla.

Happy Gardening! 


2 Responses

    1. Don Kinzler

      Hi. Yes, spirea respond very well to the same rejuvenation – types like Bridalwreath, Anthony Waterer, Goldmound, and all the others eventually choke themselves out with underbrush. Cutting back to 6 inches above ground level, while removing the dead, brittle branches that snap off at ground level works very well. Thanks.

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