Ideas for Pruning Shrubs

Helpful advice for pruning shrubs. How to prune shrubs simply. When to prune shrubs for best results. When to ignore the flowers when trimming flowering shrubs. Cloud pruning and other creative ways to trim shrubs.

Picture of a sheared sawara cypress growing in Savannah, GA.

Sawara cypress in a Savannah, Georgia front yard.

As Chamaecyparis pisifera squarrosa can be pruned into nearly any rounded shape, it is perfect for topiary.

Hedges and garden topiary are pruned by shearing or clipping. These formal shapes need to be trimmed every time they grow 1/4-1/2 inch. How often this turns out to be depends on how quickly the shrubs grow.

Landscaping shrubs that are being grown in a naturalistic fashion will need to be pruned according to type.

When to Prune Shrubs

A cloud pruned tree in a Japanese garden.

Cloud pruning (Niwaki) is a stylistic Japanese method of trimming shrubs into cloud-like shapes.

Niwaki: Pruning, Training and Shaping Trees the Japanese Way is a wonderful book which will help you learn this prized art.

Each plant has its own specific requirements, but in general: deciduous shrubs are pruned in late winter or spring. Evergreens can be pruned throughout the growing season.

You can do as little as the simple removal of broken or crossing wood each spring or you can thin the shrubs by removing excess stems at ground level.

You can also head the remaining upright stems back to control a shrub’s height.

There are not many set rules regarding how to prune shrubs. How much or how little you trim depends mainly on how you want the shrub to look.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs

Hibiscus bushes outside a restaurant.

These Hibiscus bushes are trimmed throughout the growing season to maintain their neat shape and to keep them from overgrowing the space.

Believe it or not, the flowering habit of a shrub should not be your primary consideration when deciding when and how to prune it.

The first thing to consider is always the finished result.

Are you trying to make this shrub into a hedge or other sheared shape? Or do you want it to look as if no pruning tools have ever touched it while maintaining a neat appearance?

Both these ends can be achieved with flowering shrubs. You’ll just need to pursue them in different ways.

How to Prune a Flowering Hedge

Picture of sheared citrus trees.

Sheared citrus trees at Pinewood Estate in Lake Wales, Fl.

All types of citrus will tolerate shearing but small-leaved varieties like calamondins or key limes are best suited to this type of topiaryesque shaping.

Uniformity and dense growth are important in a hedge–any hedge, flowering or otherwise.

The same is true for topiary bushes or any shaped shrub.

Prune all of the above to promote dense, even growth and to maintain the chosen shape.

The only thing that changes when pruning flowering shrubs is the timing.

Even in this, the flowers are not the main consideration.

What is?

Whether the hedge is deciduous or evergreen.

Trimming Deciduous Flowering Hedges

A Forsythia hedge in bloom is a golden jewel in the landscape.If the hedge flowers just once in early spring, trim it just after the flowers fade.
Buy Forsythia ‘Sunrise’
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

This way, you will get the biggest flower display.

You can then trim it lightly during the growing season to keep it neat.

Pruning Evergreen Flowering Hedges

Sheared southern yews.

The yew pine is particularly suitable for sculpting blocky shapes.

Prune sheared evergreen flowering hedges just as if they did not bloom.

It is important to trim sheared hedges each time time they put on 1/2 an inch or so of new growth.

You should only be cutting into tender new shoots when you prune a hedge.

If you have to cut into woody stems to bring the plants back down to the desired height, you have waited too long to trim.

Shrub subjected to poor pruning.

Trimming too much at one time causes gaps or holes to form in the hedge.

It is also important not to remove too much growth in an attempt to stretch the time between shearings as doing so will cause thin, uneven growth and dieback.

If you want a sheared hedge but do not wish to prune it often, choose a slow growing plant.

Shearing any flowering plant will dramatically reduce the number of blooms it produces. If you want a big flower show, grow a naturalistic flowering hedge by following these tips for pruning hedges.

Pruning Shrubs Naturally

The conifer in this historic Savannah, Ga landscape looks as if it has never been touched by secateurs.

I doubt that this is true.

Many evergreens are attractively-shaped by nature but there are few which will maintain perfect form indefinitely.

Thin these plants if you want to be able to see through them. When pruning shrubs, thinning can make a large, dense bush seem less heavy.

Thinning cuts are made by the complete removal of stems either to the soil or back to a major branch.

Think carefully before making thinning cuts as these stems will not grow back.

Aside from this, most conifers only need occasional light trimming to maintain their naturally beautiful form.

Rose of Sharon bush in flower.

This rose of Sharon bush is growing at the site of the first Christian marriage in North America (according to a plaque at the site) in Ormond Beach, Fl.

It is most likely very old.

Proper care and pruning have kept it healthy and productive.

This plant’s lower limbs are kept clean by the frequent removal of any new low-growing shoots. It is headed back each spring to keep it bushy and in scale with the small building.

When pruning shrubs, Heading Cuts are made by removing part of a branch or stem. This activates all the nodes on the portion which remains and jump-starts them into growth.

The result is a shorter, bushier shrub. Flowering shrubs produce many more blooms when pruned in this fashion.

Because, Hibiscus syriacus is deciduous, you should prune it in early spring before it leafs out. The naked stems will allow you to see into the plant better.

Pruning Rose of Sharon will instruct you here. You can also use those instructions to prune other types of deciduous shrubs.

Tips for Pruning Shrubs

Nerium oleander trained as a tree.

Nerium oleander trained to standard.

To maintain this form, remove any new shoots arising from the roots and pinch off any leaves that begin to grow from the trunk.

Oleander Care and Pruning will guide you in transforming a shrub into a tree.

  • Use sharp pruning tools.
  • When pruning shrubs, use the right tool. Secateurs and shears should only be used on thin stems. Branches more than half an inch thick require loppers.
  • Make pruning cuts at a slight angle.
  • Do not make flush cuts. Leave a quarter inch branch collar behind.

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