pruning shrubs

Five Important Guidelines for Pruning Bushes

Pruning bushes is like many other gardening skills, you get to learn the basic cuts and then you apply them.

The first step is to understand the two basic cuts and what they do for and to your plant.

Once you understand these, then you can prune darn near anything in your shrub garden by following a few simple rules.

Second Guideline: What Shrubs To Prune In The Spring

If the shrub blooms in the early spring (e.g. lilacs) then the buds are formed during the summer. The buds then overwinter on the branch coming alive in the spring.

This means we prune spring blooming plants right after they have finished blooming or within a few weeks of the blooms finishing.

Note: You can prune a spring blooming shrub in the winter but understand you’ll be removing flower buds.

Third Guideline: What Plants To Prune In The Fall

If the shrub blooms in summer or fall, it is blooming on buds it produced in the same growing season. So we prune those shrubs in the winter when the plant is dormant.

Those are the two major rules for pruning shrubs. (Blooms in the spring, prune it right after blooming. Blooms in summer/fall, prune in winter while it is dormant)
As an extra hint, you do want to feed your woody plants in the fall and here’s the scoop on this.

Fourth Guide: What Do You Want To Do With Your Shrub

You’ve watched the video so you know the two kinds of cuts and what they do. You know that a thinning cut is going to remove growth and a heading cut thicken up growth.

The question then is what do you want to do with your shrub? Open it up so more light gets into it? Thicken it up so more blooms are produced?

It’s impossible for any article to describe each condition for pruning bushes in every garden, for every plant.

The deal is you have to know whether you want to thicken or thin.

Fifth Guide: Step By Step Directions

The old hard and fast guidelines we all follow for pruning shrubs are:

  • Remove all dead branches first.
  • Remove all really thin and weak branches (in other words, at every part of the shrub there will be average sized branches or shoots and weaker ones. Remove the weaker ones.
  • Remove all crossing branches (those that are rubbing the bark off each other -remove the weaker or the one going inward toward the center of the plant)

Those three suggestions will help keep your shrub looking good every spring.


You’re going to be hesitant about pruning bushes the first few times you try. Simply remember the two kinds of cuts and every time you’re about to remove wood, ask if you’re trying to thin out the growth or increase the growth.

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