Scotch broom plant should recover fine from the snow

I have three scotch broom plants that are about four years old, growing nicely. One is the moonbeam, which is so beautiful when it blooms. I’ve never trimmed them and didn’t think I should, but the snow has made them look pretty scraggly and bent over. Will they recover or should they be clipped back to some length?

— Barb

My general recommendation is to wait because the plant will usually fix the problem by itself, given time. Probably the best thing would have been to knock the snow off right after it fell. Now, we pretty much never do this (I sure don’t!), but if you have a plant that consistently does this and doesn’t seem to spring back in time, this is the way to go.

However, if you have a plant at the end of March that is still bent over and disfigured from the snow, then some light corrective pruning can help. Cutting or shearing back will remove the worst of the bent-over stuff and lighten the load the branch bears, which will help it stand more erect.

The one drawback about doing this with scotch broom is that you’ll be pruning off some of the flowers for this coming spring. You see, scotch broom sets its flower buds in the late spring or early summer of the prior year. Those buds are on your plant right now just waiting for some warmer weather to break open and bloom. Pruning them off is a setback for this year; the plant will look great next year.

Long term, pruning scotch broom gets to be a bit more problematic. In time, many varieties will get to 6 to 10 feet tall and can become more open and scraggly looking. Once this happens, there’s little you can do to fix it. Pruning an older plant severely will almost always kill the plant. These plants retain few, if any, dormant buds down on those older stems to resprout when cut back. Pruning needs to begin at a fairly young age. It consists of selectively pruning back young stems every year to stimulate fresh new growth that will keep the plant full and thick.

The drawback to this is, eventually, you’ll create a plant that has a sheared look to it. This more formal look is much different than the more informal, natural look reminiscent of Mormon tea that an unpruned plant gives. These plants can be maintained for many years as a sheared specimen if you so desire. The only thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to shear it in late spring right after it’s done blooming.

If you really want a more informal plant combined with a full, lush look, you’ll have to treat the plant as a short-term project and replace it every six to 10 years.


I’m looking at ordering an autumn olive online. Is this considered an invasive species in the valley? I’ve read mixed reviews and would value your response.

— Carol


Autumn olive is not on the noxious weed list for Colorado so it should be OK to plant. Like its cousin Russian olive, which is on the list, the fruit of autumn olive is loved by birds and can be spread around by them. Because of this, there is some concern about its invasiveness, but that hasn’t been shown to be a problem as of yet.

Autumn olive doesn’t form a tree like Russian olive but grows into a large shrub. It has silvery gray leaves and is quite tolerant of heat, sun and some drought.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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