Pruning Guide

Pruning is one of the best things you can do for your shrubs. Regular pruning maintains the shrubs’ size and prevents breakage during the winter months by managing the structure of the plant. It even creates more flowers as the shrub redirects its energy into flower production rather than overgrowth.

The chart that follows provides our timing recommendations for pruning some of the most popular shrubs in our area. The “Flower Buds” column notes whether the buds form on new or old growth and the “comments” column incudes some of our gardeners’ tips to prune your shrub of choice.

For reference, here are the pruning techniques we recommend:

  • Heading: Trimming long, unbranched stems by cutting above a healthy bud. This encourages lower branches to develop.
  • Rejuvenation: Cutting back all of the stems to within an inch of the ground during dormancy. Come spring, the plants will product new shoots from the base.
  • Thinning: Removing selected shoots or the main stem to open up the middle of the plant to more sunlight. This helps to maintain the natural form, keeps the interior branches healthy and encourages new growth.
  • Shearing: Trimming the plant around the outside to restore the structure in the landscape setting.
Plant NameBest TimeFlower BudsPruning MethodComments
Abelia x grandiflora
February-MarchNew growthThinning, shearingShape as needed in growing season. Old plants can be rejuvenated.
Pieris japonica
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering, requires very little pruning.
Aucuba japonica
March-AprilNew growthHeading, shearingCan slowly rejuvenate old, leggy plants.
Rhododendron spp.
May-JuneOld growthThinningCan rejuvenate overgrown plants. Prune after flowering.
Berberis spp.
March-MayNew growthShearingShape as needed in growing season.
M. pensylvanica
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune to maintain natural shape
Callicarpa spp.
January-FebruaryNew growthThinning, headingCan rejuvenate old, leggy plants.
Buxus spp.
February-MarchN/AThinning, headingAnnual thinning improves health and density. Can occasionally shear vigorous varieties.
Burning Bush
Euonymus alatus
March-AprilNew growthThinning, shearingShape as needed in growing season.
Butterfly Bush
Buddleia spp.
March-AprilNew growthRejuvenation, thinningRejuvenate each spring. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage reblooming.
Camellia japonica
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingSlow to recover from heavy pruning.
Camellia sasanqua
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingSlow to recover from heavy pruning.
Chaste Tree
Vitex agnus-castus
February-MarchNew growthThinning, headingOld, leggy plants can be rejuvenated.
Cherry Laurel
Prunus laurocerasus
May-JuneOld growthHeading, shearingPrune just after flowering. Shape as needed in growing season.
Cotoneaster spp.
February-MarchOld and new growthThinningRemove dead branches and trim irregular growth. Can be shared, but this diminishes natural form.
Crape Myrtle
Laegerstromia hybrids
March-AprilNew growthThinning, headingShrub forms can be sheared, but this diminishes natural form.
Daphne, Winter
Daphne odora
April-MayOld growthHeadingDaphne is a slow growing, compact plant. Little to no pruning necessary.
Deutzia spp.
May-JuneOld growthShearing, headingPrune after flowering.
Dogwood, Red Twig
Cornus alba
MarchOld growthRejuvenation, thinningRejuvenation encourages bright, colorful stems.
Pyracantha coccinea
February-MarchOld growthThinning, headingFlowers and berries produced on previous year’s “spurs”. Retain as many spurs as possible for berry production.
Forsythia hybrid
April-MayOld growthThinning, rejuvenationRemove old canes annually to keep dense and full.
Fothergilla, Dwarf
Fothergilla gardenii
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering
Heavenly Bamboo
N. domestica
March-AprilNew growthThinning, headingThin a few of the older branches each year on tall varieties to prevent leggy growth.
Ilex spp.
February-MarchOld growthShearing, headingCan rejuvenate overgrown plants.
Hydrangea, Smooth
H. arborescens
January-MarchNew growthHeading, rejuvenationPrune annually to keep dense and full.
Hydrangea, Big Leaf
H. macrophylla
March or after floweringOld growthThinningRemove dead branches in March, or prune immediately after flowering.
Hydrangea, Panicle
H. paniculata
January-MarchNew growthThinning, headingCan rejuvenate overgrown plants.
Hydrangea, OakleafJune-JulyOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering.
Jasmine, Winter
Jasminum nudiflorium
March-AprilOld growthThinning, shearingPrune after flowering.
Juniperus spp.
February-AprilN/AShearing, headingPrune green tips only. Junipers will not regrow from woody stems.
Kerria japonica
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingThin old, leggy stems after flowering.
Lilac, common
Syringa vulgaris
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering.
Lilac, Dwarf Korean
Syringa meyeri
June-JulyOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering.
Loropetalum hybrid
February-MarchOld and new growthThinning, rejuvenationPrune in late winter, shape as needed in growing season.
Mahonia spp.
March-AprilOld growthThinning, rejuvenationRemove old, leggy stems in early spring.
Philadelphus hybrid
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune old, leggy stems after flowering.
Mountain Laurel
Kalmia latifolia
June-JulyOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering. Old, leggy plants can be rejuvenated.
Physocarpus opulifolius
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering. Thin branches and head back outer growth by 1/4-1/3.
Photinia, Red Tip
Photinia x frasier
February-MarchNew growthThinning, shearingThin branches in February to March. Shear tips in early summer to maintain red tips.
Lugustrum spp.
February-MarchNew growthShearing, heading, rejuvenationTrim as needed through growing season.
Salix caprea
April-MayOld growthThinning, rejuvenationPrune after flowering.
Quince, flowering
Chaenomeles spp.
May-JuneOld growthThinning, rejuvenationPrune after flowering.
Rose, shrub
Rose hybrid
February-MarchNew growthRejuvenation, thinningClimbing roses use different techniques. Preserve main canes and prune lateral branches to promote flowering.
Hibiscus syriacus
January-MarchNew growthThinning, headingPrune vigorous branches as needed in the growing season.
Smoke Tree
Cotinus coggygria
January-MarchOld growthThinning, headingLeggy plants can be rejuvenated.
Spirea, Bumald
Spirea x Bumalda
May-JuneNew and Old GrowthThinning, shearingDeadhead blooms for repeat flowering.
Spirea, Vanhoutte
Spirea x vanhouttei
May-JuneOld growthShearing, rejuvenationPrune after flowering.
Spirea, Japanese
Spirea japonica
January-FebruaryNew and old growthShearing, rejuvenationShape as needed through the growing season.
Calycanthus floridus
June-JulyNew and old growthThinning, rejuvenationThin suckers after flowering.
Viburnum spp.
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering.
Virginia Sweetspire
Itea virginica
June-JulyOld growthThinning, headingPrune after flowering.
Wiegela florida
May-JuneOld growthThinning, headingRemove old leggy stems and shape as needed. Prune after flowering.
Ilex verticilata
February-MarchOld growthThinning, headingHeavy pruning will diminish berry production. Thin out leggy branches.
Hamemaelis spp.
MarchOld growthThinning, headingRemove ‘suckers’ in January. Thin branches after flowering.