Across the mild winter regions of the United States, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, the Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense) grows as a large shrub or hedge that bears ribbonlike flowers from winter into spring. The wild form of this semi-evergreen shrub bears green leaves and white flowers, but numerous cultivars exist of the coppery to burgundy-leaved form (L. chinense var. rubrum), which produces magenta-pink to fuchsia blossoms. All types respond well to pruning, which is best done in spring.
The best time to prune Chinese fringe flower shrubs is immediately after the flowering display wanes in spring. This time frame varies depending on location. In USDA zone 9, the shrub blooms as early as February, but in the coolest parts of zone 7 farther north, not until April. Pruning may be done earlier, such as late winter to early spring, but you risk cutting away twig tissues that bear flowers.
If allowed to grow to their natural, genetically determined size, Chinese fringe flowers do not require much pruning. Dead, diseased or broken branches may be removed any time of year. Often, the many cultivars are pruned heavily to maintain a lower, more rounded shape when planted in small beds around building foundations. Frequent branch tip trimming is required in summer and fall to keep the plant uniform in shape and to remove any errant or lopsided new growth.
Effects of Summer Pruning
Trimming branches of Chinese fringe flower in summer and into early fall is problematic, even though it may be shaping the shrub. The flower buds form in summer on the growth that sprouted earlier that spring. Cutting off the branch tips too late in summer removes these buds and therefore diminishes the flowering expected the following late winter and early spring. Pruning in early fall also creates a dilemma. New growth that sprouts in September and October is too immature to survive the onset of the first fall frosts and freezes, leading to lots of dieback.
Chinese fringe flowers truly attain picturesque, tiered branching silhouettes if allowed to grow to their natural sizes. A large number of cultivars exist, each with varying leaf colors and mature plant sizes. To lessen the need for repeated or harsh annual pruning, select a cultivar that matures within the size range you desire in your garden. If you want a 5-foot-tall plant, do not plant a cultivar that naturally attains a height of 10 feet. Instead, look for selections that mature 4 to 6 feet tall, since the growth after pruning won't be so vigorous.
Jacob J. Wright
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.