This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The art (for it is an art) of pruning and keeping shrubs in neat shape is yet to be learned by most of the ruralists of the country. We have known of cases of people so stupidly ignorant that they pruned spiraea, deutzia, dwarf almond, before the spring growth commences, and then wondered why they never got a blossom. They had not yet learned, or at least observed, that the blossoms are borne almost entirely upon the last year's wood before the coming of the leaves. The best way of growing shrubs now-a-days is in groups or well planted masses, thus giving a mutual protection, and effective display. But, as The Country Gentleman observes:
When they are grown as isolated plants in front door-yards, it is necessary to make them hold their heads up, and look trim and tidy. Every day wo see examples of such bushes tied up in compact bunches, with a stake to secure greater uprightness; but towards April it is common to see stake and all dangling helplessly over. Then they are straightened by re-setting the stake, and by cropping the disheveled tops by barber-ous pruning shears or knife.
This treatment is senseless. It directly defeats the main object, which we suppose to be the securing of a plant of neat figure, robed in luxuriant leaves, and brightened with well-expanded flowers. For it is obvious that not one of these crowded shoots can open its leaves to the light, and as they were similarly suffocated last summer, they have nothing laid up - no means or substance from which to produce good flowers this year, even if there were room to display them. Next summer they will, of course, be barren too, if the leaves are given no room to turn.
But the bush will do something, so long as it has roots safe and sound, and as it can do nothing else well, it will go back to the primitive course of throwing up fresh sprouts from the ground, thus adding to and aggravating the crowded condition above.
The right treatment in such a case is to use a strong, narrow knife, or saw, or sharp pointed pruning shears, such as French gardeners use, or a suitable chisel and mallet, and cut out all the old exhausted shoots, and all the young ones that are weak or unripe, close at the surface wherever possible, or beneath it, for neatness sake, leaving only those which have been first selected as the best and the best placed. Separate these by tying or spreading, using a light hoop, if necessary, to secure a well-balanced and evenly distributed figure, with full room around each shoot for its flowering branchlets and leaves, and full access of light and free air throughout. If a stake seems needful, it will not look amiss, provided it is set erect and centrally, even although it may be thick and tall. In that position it may be even taller than the shoots. The shoots left to bloom should not be shortened further than to make ill-turned, unsymmetrical branchlets, or slender ones incapable of bloom.
If this care is supplemented by a trifling attention, in May or June, to pinch out the sprouts that will appear numerously then, leaving only the suitably placed few that are wanted to fill vacancies, or to renew good blooming canes, according to the nature of the plant, the fullest rewards of successful training will be attained. Some plants make a rank growth from the tops in August or September, and in their case a pinching of the ends of wild or wanton shoots is advisable.
Climbing roses, raspberries, currants, gooseberries, etc., class under the above rule of treatment.
When shrubs are grouped in masses they are not tied up in any formal figure. Pendant branchlets or low growing sorts placed in front of erect ones hide the stems, and present to the sight only leaves and flowers, as in natural boscage.