A few weeks ago we covered pruning evergreen shrubs. Today we are going to look at pruning deciduous shrubs, mainly flowering. Pruning is an essential chore because it produces well-shaped bushes and keeps them from getting overgrown and unsightly. Pruning also generally promotes flowering and fruiting and healthier plants.



Prune lilac bushes after the flowers have faded.

Prune lilac bushes after the flowers have faded.

  1. Stimulates growth of new shouts. Pruning encourages growth below the pruning cut.
  2. Encourages flowering and fruiting. New shoots often are the greatest producers of flowers and fruit.
  3. Removes damaged or weak branches that may harbor disease. Cutting out damaged shoots can remove the sources of some diseases.
  4. Controls size of the bush. Most of us want our ornamental shrubs just so high and no higher. Pruning helps keep them at the height most suitable to their location in our yards.
  5. Promotes healthier shrubs. Shrubs that are pruned regularly are less apt to have week branches that are prone to insect damage and disease.


Use sheers, electric or manual, to create neat hedges.

Use sheers, electric or manual, to create neat hedges.



  • cut off 10% or less of the shrub to simulate more growth or maintain a bush’s shape.
  • cut off errant shoots that are outgrowing the rest of the bush or tree at any time.
  • prune growth that extends over a walkway and poses a hazard.
  • prune newly planted shrubs and small trees to stimulate growth.

Early Spring

  • promotes no new growth after freezing temperatures are past.
  • gives nutrients stored in last-year’s leaves and stems a chance to transfer to the roots.
  • removes branches before they grow thereby avoiding also removing the nutrients that will soon move up from the roots and feed new foliage growth.

 After Blooming

  • wait until after certain kinds of plants have bloomed before you prune. A few varieties of flowering shrubs bloom as early as March. If you prune in late fall or early spring you will remove the shoots that will produce the early flowers. (See chart.)



  • Deadheading removes spent flowers. Deadheading is done by hand usually with a small pruner, a pair of scissors, or the hands. Deadheading can stimulate additional flowers in some bush varieties.
  • Pinching is the cutting off of shoot tips and thereby stimulating growth in the middle so that the bush increases in diameter.
  • Thinning is one type of pruning and it is the most common and best way to renew a shrub. Thinning regulates the plant’s shape and is used especially for shrubs that generate suckers from the base. To thin, use a pair of loppers to prune out the interior branches. Then grab the pruning saw and saw back any shouts that are sprouting at the base of the plant. Caution: Remove no more than one-third of the largest branches at any one pruning.
  • Rejuvenating is a pruning technique for some varieties of shrubs that become overgrown or leggy. Cut the shrub back to a height of anywhere from 10 to 25 cms from the ground when the shrubs are dormant in early spring or late fall.
  • Heading back can be used to reduce the height of most shrub varieties. Cut back the selected branches all the way to the branch or the bud from which it originates. When cutting back to a bud, be sure to prune at an angle to within .65 cms above the bud. DO NOT leave a stub.
  • Shearing may be the most severe form of pruning and should only be done for certain types of shrubs. Shearing removes new shoots in mass. Shear is used on formal hedge rows or to shape individual hedges into special shapes.

Disinfect pruning tools with alcohol or a weak bleach solution after each cut to reduce the chances of spreading diseases.


We advise you to prune your shrubs periodically to assure that your shrubs and trees get optimal care to maintain their good looks. If you don’t feel confident in your pruning skills, call a lawn care professional to complete the task for you.