landscapers groundskeepers at my workplace just finished pruning a hedge of witch alders, thus ruining their naturally elegant form and guaranteeing that they won’t bloom this year.
Witch alders (Fothergilla gardenii, Fothergilla major, Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’) are native shrubs that reward the gardener with licorice-scented flowers in spring, attractive foliage in summer, and bright color in autumn. Blooming is their first act after winter dormancy, so the flowers are borne on the stems that grew the previous year. By cutting the plants now, the groundskeepers have sheared off all of the flower buds that would have covered the plants with beautiful white flowers about two months from now.
Fothergilla also tend to branch after blooming, so the new growth emerging from these cuts will consist of straight stems with long internodes and few branches. By the end of summer, these plants will probably have put on as much height, if not more, than they would have if left unpruned. Where they have been cut at the same level several years in a row, they are starting to develop unsightly knobby growths that are wider than the stems below.
In situations where limiting height is a requirement, try planting the dwarf F. gardenii, not the much taller F. major or their hybrid ‘Mt. Airy’. And if you really must prune a witch alder, do it immediately after the the spring flowering. It is probably best to carefully remove individual branches to maintain the informal appearance of the bush instead of just cutting straight across the top. Really, apart from formal boxwood hedges, does anything look good when sheared square like the poor plants above?