General gardening topics

When and how to prune Sorbaria (False spirea)

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Sorbaria is one of my favourite shrubs but the variety I fell in love with was the more compact and smaller growing Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’. This popular variety only reaches around 150cm wide (5ft) by around 100cm wide. The eventual size of this shrub makes it an ideal addition for smaller gardens and borders. It is such an attractive shrub that has pink/bronze foliage in spring, eventually maturing to a dark green colour and this is followed by panicles of small creamy white flowers in mid-summer. In Autumn it seems to come alive again as the foliage turns to vibrant shades of fiery red before the leaves finally fall in late autumn months.

Why it is a good idea to prune Sorbaria

Like all the varieties of Sorbaria, the main issue that you will have is that it will send out lots of suckers around the shrub. It can be quite an evasive plant if you don’t do a little pruning and sucker removal.

Sorbaria suckers around the base of main plant that need to be removed to prevent spreading
Sorbaria suckers around the base of the main plant need to be removed to prevent spreading

Firstly, it is quite a forgiving plant so you can’t really do any long term damage when pruning your Sorbaria, no matter how hard you prune it. I prune mine every couple of years but as an alternative, you could do it as part of your yearly pruning, at the same time you might prune your other shrubs and trees.

When to prune Sorbaria

Sorbaria with the flowers now finished

You can either prune after the Sorbaria has finished flowering (which is usually in the late summer) but you can also prune it in autumn when it has dropped all of its leaves. If you don’t prune in the Autumn then I would recommend pruning when you see lots of new buds in early spring, as they spring into life with those vibrant green buds you will be able to see the best places to prune.

How to prune

First off, I like to prune them fairly hard, to approximately 1-2ft tall, but you don’t have to do this if you’re happy letting it grow taller every year or you can just give it a light prune to keep it to your desired shape.

Sorbaria pruned back hard with just the suckers left to remove
Sorbaria pruned back hard with just the suckers left to remove

When pruning, try to cut above new buds and prune all the main stems back. If you have a Sorbaria that has gotten out of control don’t be scared to really prune it back hard. Also, prune out any dead or diseased stems right back until you are left with just the healthy stems.

Removing the suckers

The main issue with Sorbaria is that it’s a real spreader and it will send out lots of suckers around the plant. Ideally, you want to remove as many of these suckers as possible and try and get as much of the root as possible under the soil or they will just keep coming back from the root left in the soil.

Removing suckers from around base of plant
Removing suckers from around the base of the plant

To do this, prune any suckers away from around the base of the plant that is not part of the original plant. These suckers are easy to spot and will be fresh stems.

Sorbaria pruned back hard and all the suckers removed

This is a good time to plant the suckers up into small pots if you want to propagate them

If you want to propagate Sorbaria, you can remove the suckers with some of the roots still attached and plant them into smaller pots. We recommend planting them into seed and cutting compost and grow them on in these pots until they become established small plants. It is worth noting that this is best done in the Autumn.

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