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Pruning tips for shrubs

By: Garden Gate staff
Do you know which of your shrubs could benefit from pruning? We do! Check our list to find out.

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
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