Red sand cherry (Prunus x cistena) is a hybrid, small shrub with attractive burgundy-purple foliage and dainty pink blossoms in springtime. Quickly growing to 6 to 10 feet tall, it is a popular specimen shrub or hedgerow in cold winter regions. It responds well to occasional stem pruning to flush with more dense, twiggy growth as well as to a harsh, severe pruning to rejuvenate the plant with more robustly colored foliage and a nicer overall shape.
Annual Branch Tip Pruning
Trim branch tips back to reduce the length of stems or the overall height of the sandcherry. On hedges, use a hedge sheers or trimmer to clip back stems, or on specimen plants use a hand pruners to selectively cut back stems. Make sure cutting blades are sharp so the pruning cuts are crisp and do not tear or "chew" the stem tissues.
Try to focus pruning cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch above dormant buds or growing leaves. This is difficult with sheering tools, but with a pruners the cuts can be more precise.
Remove dead or diseased branches of the shrub at any time of year they are encountered. Fully remove any branch parts that are rotted, making the pruning cut 1/4-inch above a healthy or alive branch, leaf or dormant bud. Use hand pruners to remove specific branches, not hedge sheers or trimmers.
Spray or pour rubbing alcohol on the cutting blades of equipment after pruning into branches that are diseased. You do not want to inadvertently spread a disease to healthy branches you prune afterwards.
Cut back all main branches of the shrub to staggered height of 12 to 24 inches with a hand pruners. Branches larger than 1/2 inch in diameter are best cut with a loppers. Make the pruning cuts in a crisp, one-motion cut so that the remaining stub trunks are not torn, cracked or rigid in shape.
Clip away any twigs smaller than the diameter of a No. 2 pencil from the reduced branch bases left from Step 1. Make the pruning cuts flush, no more than 1/8 to 1/4-inch above the connection of the twig with the main branch bases. The plant should look very short but clean and free of errant twigs when complete.
Monitor the growth of stems as the plant rebounds from the severe pruning in spring and summer. Prune away any deformed, diseased, or dead branches when encountered. Rubbing or awkwardly angled branches can also be removed per your aesthetic needs, always making pruning cuts 1/4-inch above a branch junction, leaf or dormant bud.
About this Author
James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.