Issue 99 Pruning Tips for Shrubs

Square-Foot Gardens

Get your pruning shears ready! Here’s a list of 37 common shrubs that respond well to maintenance pruning. And if you do it on a regular basis — once a year on most shrubs — it’s an easy task. Since there are no drastic cuts, the shrubs fill in again in just a few weeks, too. So think about which of these shrubs you have in your garden — you may have at least one that could be improved by a bit of pruning right now!
Plant Name Best time to prune Cold/Heat zones Tips
Abelia, glossy
Abelia xgrandiflora
Winter 6-9/9-1 If needed, thin out the oldest stems to the ground each winter to keep this shrub in shape
Azalea
Rhododendron hybrid
Late spring to early summer 4-9/9-1 Slow to recover from heavy pruning; taking off too much may retard blooming for a year or two
Barberry
Berberis spp.
Late spring to early summer 4-8/8-1 Pruning is the same for both deciduous and evergreen types; thorny, so always wear gloves
Bayberry, northern
Myrica pensylvanica
Early summer 3-7/7-1 Maintain natural, informal shape and size with light pruning; rarely needs rejuvenation
Burning bush
Euonymus alatus
Anytime 4-9/9-1 Prune before new growth for a more casual look or after new growth for a tighter, more formal appearance
Camellia, Japanese
Camellia japonica
Late spring 6-8/8-1 Slow to recover from heavy pruning so try to keep it in shape with more frequent light trimmings
Carolina allspice/sweetshrub
Calycanthus floridus
Spring or late summer 4-9/9-1 Lightly prune to maintain form
Chastetree
Vitex agnus-castus
Late winter 6-9/9-1 Shrubs can be pruned quite severely; prune tree-form specimens only lightly
Cotoneaster
Cotoneaster spp.
Winter 4-9/9-1 Prone to fireblight so prune below infected areas; sterilize shears between cuts with bleach solution
Deutzia
Deutzia spp.
Early Summer 5-8/8-1 Blooms better with annual pruning
Dogwood, red twig
Cornus alba
Winter or early spring 2-8/8-1 Hard pruning in early spring produces the most colorful stems for winter interest
Firethorn
Pyracantha coccinea
Summer 5-9/9-1 Thorny, so wear gloves; sterilize shears between cuts to prevent spreading fireblight
Forsythia
Forsythia hybrid
Spring 4-8/8-1 Prune every year after blooming to keep this fast-growing shrub under control
Fothergilla, dwarf
Fothergilla gardenii
Early summer 5-8/8-1 Open habit and small size; rarely needs much pruning
Heavenly bamboo
Nandina domestica
Spring 6-9/9-1 Prune tips to maintain size; thin out four or five of the oldest stems each year to keep this shrub tidy
Honeysuckle
Lonicera spp.
Summer 3-10/10-1 Tolerant of almost any type of pruning; quick to recover and fill in again
Hydrangea, smooth
Hydrangea arborescens
Late winter 3-9/9-1 Prune lightly to allow this plant to grow tallest; cutting back severely will give you fewer, but larger, flowers
Kerria
Kerria japonica
Early summer 4-9/9-1 Take out some of the oldest stems to produce more flowers and bright green stems for winter interest
Lilac, common
Syringa vulgaris
Late spring 3-8/8-1 Prune lightly to control size; cut back severely when overgrown — takes several years to bloom again
Lilac, dwarf Korean
Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’
Early summer 3-8/8-1 Rarely needs much pruning to stay dense and compact
Maple, Amur
Acer tataricum ginnala
Midsummer 2-8/8-1 Wounds bleed sap if cut in winter or early spring
Mockorange
Philadelphus hybrid
Late spring 4-8/8-1 Remove oldest stems from the center to keep this shrub blooming its best
Mountain-laurel
Kalmia latifolia
Early summer 4-9/9-1 Performs well with minimal pruning; deadhead spent flowers to stimulate more side branches
Privet
Ligustrum spp.
Early spring 3-10/10-1 Do heavy pruning in early spring, but can be lightly trimmed at any time during the year
Pussywillow
Salix caprea
Late spring 3-8/8-1 Removing some of the oldest stems will produce long stems for cutting; quick to recover from pruning
Quince, flowering
(in photo above)
Chaenomeles spp.
Late spring to summer 5-8/8-1 Wear gloves and long sleeves, flowering spurs are similar to thorns
Rose-of-Sharon
Hibiscus syriacus
Early spring 5-8/8-1 Prune lightly to maintain a large size shrub or keep it small with regular heavy pruning
Siberian peashrub
Caragana arborescens
Late spring 2-7/7-1 Rarely needs pruning except to control size; lightly trim specimens that are trained into tree-form
Smoke tree
Cotinus coggygria
Winter 5-8/8-1 Prune lightly for large plants or cut to the ground each winter to maintain a small shrub
Spirea, Japanese
Spiraea japonica
Late winter 3-8/8-1 Cut back severely each year for dense growth and more flowers; trim lightly after flowering for a possible rebloom
Spirea, Van Houtte
Spiraea xvanhouttei
Late spring 3-9/9-1 Recovers quickly from hard pruning; best form and flowering in early summer with regular trimming
Viburnum, arrowwood
Viburnum dentatum
Late spring 3-8/8-1 You′ll lose the fall fruit with spring pruning, but this shrub will flower normally next spring
Virginia sweetspire
Itea virginica
Summer 5-9/9-1 Pruning will keep this shrub from growing loose and floppy; rarely needs to be cut back severely
Weigela
Weigela florida
Summer 4-9/9-1 Regular pruning promotes the best flowering; recovers quickly from a severe cutting back
Winterberry
Ilex verticillata
Late winter 4-8/8-1 Regular light pruning will result in more colorful fruit along the stems; slow to recover from heavy pruning
Witchhazel
Hamamelis spp.
Late spring to summer 4-8/8-1 Open branching habit rarely needs much pruning; prune lightly to control size
Yew
Taxus spp.
Late winter 4-8/8-1 Late winter for heavy pruning; can easily be trimmed any time of year