How to Prune a Leggy Tea Olive Bush

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A tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans), or sweet olive, can perfume your entire yard for months -- from late fall and into spring in some climates. This warm-weather evergreen, hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10, has an upright shape and can reach 20 feet tall and be used as a small tree, but it is most commonly a 6-to-10-foot shrub. Experts note that the plant does not require much pruning for an attractive shape and even thrives on neglect, but tea olive can lose foliage at the bottom as it ages. Prune a leggy tea olive bush to restore its good looks.

Things You'll Need

  • Long-handled loppers
  • Bypass pruners
  • Pruning saw
  • Household antiseptic cleaner
  • Paper towels
  • Spray the blades of your pruning tools with a full-strength household antiseptic cleaner to eliminate any lingering fungal disease they may carry over from other recently pruned plants. Wipe the blades dry with paper towels

  • Cut out fully dead or broken branches back to where they meet the main framework of the shrub anytime you notice them. Tea olives have a treelike form, developing branches off one or two main trunks.

  • Cut one-third of the oldest, leggiest stems back to where they join the main trunk or another large stem, near the base of the plant in early spring before new growth begins. Tea olives are commonly pruned after they finish blooming in the spring. Renewal pruning is best done as new growth begins for fastest regrowth, although you may lose some flowers.

  • Shorten remaining stems by half with either hand pruners or loppers, depending on the diameter of the branch. Cut at a 45-degree angle above an outward-facing bud, leaf cluster or leaf scar -- where leaves once were. Tea olives can develop new growth on old wood. New branches and fresh foliage develop from the point of the cut.

  • Repeat the pruning process the following spring. Cut one-third of the oldest, leggiest stems back to where they join the main trunk or another large stem and shorten the remaining stems by half.

  • Thin crossing, too crowded or weak sprouts from new growth after blooms fade in spring. Make cuts where they join a branch, cutting throughout the plant to let light into the center of the plant to prevent future legginess.

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