How and When to Prune 50 Trees, Shrubs, and Flowers

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If you're confused about the when and hows of pruning, you aren't alone. Each type of garden tree, shrub, and bush has its own pruning requirements. We've made it all easier for you by combining 50 of them into an easy-to-read chart.


What Is Pruning?

You may think of pruning landscape plants as the equivalent of a haircut, required for appearance only. But that is just the beginning. While some pruning shapes plants to fit well within the landscape, trimming at the appropriate times can also encourage flowering and fruiting and even improve the plant's health.


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Failure to prune doesn't result in the immediate demise of a tree or shrub, but it can limit its ornamental value, allow deadwood to choke off the plant's vitality, and reduce the yield of fruit and blossoms. Timing is key when pruning, and one might argue that pruning at the wrong time is worse than not pruning at all.

Pruning Tools and Techniques

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Whether you're pruning to shape a deciduous shrub, encourage flowering, or rejuvenate a plant by removing dead, diseased or overly dense growth, you'll use one of two types of pruning cuts: heading cuts and thinning cuts.


Heading Cuts

Use heading cuts to remove the outermost growth from a branch when your intention is to increase the density of a shrub or increase the flower yield. Heading allows the plant to redistribute the nutrition it uptakes from the roots. It encourages new, vigorous growth.


  • Unless you're trimming a hedge with hedge clippers, be selective about heading cuts. Heading cuts always stimulate new plant growth. When they are made indiscriminately, a shrub will grow out of control.
  • Make heading cuts about 1/4 inch above the nearest bud that remains on the branch. New growth will emerge in the direction the bud is facing.
  • Make a straight cut to minimize the size of the wound.


Thinning Cuts

Use thinning cuts when performing maintenance on a shrub. Thinning cuts remove deadwood and diseased branches and reduce the density of the shrub without stimulating regrowth. These pruning cuts typically remove entire branches down to ground level or to a major parent branch.



  • Use pruning shears, loppers, or a saw, depending on the diameter of the wood.
  • If removing an entire branch from the parent branch, cut as close to the parent branch as possible. If a branch collar is evident, cut just outside of it.
  • If shortening a branch or removing dead wood, make the cut just above a bud node on the branch you are removing. In this case angle the cut slightly to prevent the node from drawing water from the parent branch, thus forcing it to dry out.


What Is Hard Pruning?

Hard pruning is used to rejuvenate an old deciduous shrub by cutting all its branches almost to ground level. This drastic procedure forces the shrub to produce entirely new growth, although it will probably take several years to fully recover.

Pruning Trees

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All trees can profit from occasional pruning — trunks or branches can grow in unstable ways and an overly dense canopy can block out light and air circulation and/or result in uprooting in heavy wind. In addition, when trunks or branches break, they leave stubs where pests and disease can enter. A weakened backyard tree can put your house or your neighbor's in danger.


Tree pruning can forestall these issues as well as susceptibility to disease, decay, and wind damage. But there are limits to what a homeowner should undertake. Tall and large trees should be trimmed only by an experienced arborist — both for your safety and the health of the tree, not to mention the surrounding property. But a DIYer can shape or trim small or young trees, and this may preclude the need for extensive pruning as they mature. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:


  • The best time for a homeowner to prune a tree is while it is young, since minimal tools are required. Fruit trees must be pruned repeatedly when young in order to establish the correct branching to bear maximum fruit.
  • Most mature trees are best pruned during their season of dormancy. This can vary among regions. In cold-winter areas, pruning is usually done after the coldest time of winter is past but before spring growth begins. However, diseased or damaged branches should be removed immediately rather than waiting for the dormancy period.
  • Some trees have special pruning considerations. For example, the sap from pruning wounds in some trees can attract insect pests in certain seasons that spread disease. These trees are best pruned outside of that season.
  • Flowering trees should be pruned at a time when the trimming will not reduce the blooms.
  • Fruit trees usually need training at time of transplant and the first few seasons. This is to create a strong branch structure for fruit.



A variety of tools may be needed for backyard tree pruning. These include:

  • Hand shears, scissor or anvil type: branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter
  • Lopping shears: for larger branches up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter​
  • Pruning saws: for branches larger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter
  • Pole pruners with an extendable pole: for out-of-reach branches

Pruning Shrubs

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Every shrub species has a unique growth pattern, and pruning guidelines must be tailored to that pattern. Some are best pruned to the ground in springtime, while others do best with a light autumn trim. Despite these differences, there are several general shrub-pruning rules to bear in mind.

  • Base the pruning method and time to prune on the plant's species as well as the reason you are pruning in the first place.
  • Keep in mind that while trimming back a shrub reduces its size, this is only temporarily; over time, pruning stimulates new growth.
  • Never prune more than a third of the shrub's total foliage. When it comes to the first pruning, less is better. You can always cut more, but you can't un-cut branches.
  • Always use clean, sanitized tools — generally hand pruners, loppers, or a saw, depending on the diameter of the branches — and keep them sharp. Sharp, clean cutting edges allow for wounds that heal without harming the plant or spreading disease.

Deadheading Flowers

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Deadheading is a technique of trimming flowering plants during their bloom period. It involves pruning out wilting flowers in order to direct more of the plant's energy toward creating more blooms. Not every flowering plant requires deadheading, so do some research first. But generally, few plants suffer undesirable consequences from the removal of their faded flowers. This includes both annuals and perennials.

Year-Round Pruning Calendar

Plant (Common Name)


Spring Pruning

Summer Pruning

Fall/Winter Pruning


Apple trees

Malus ‌spp.

Train after planting to set strong branch structure

Thin fruit during growing season to 6-8" apart

Prune annually in late winter between Feb and April

No pruning in early winter; this prevents winter injury


Thuja ‌spp.

Prune up to one-third of canopy just before flush of growth in late spring

Remove broken branches at any time during growing season

Avoid topping tree or cutting into branches without needles; these will not re-sprout if cut


Rhododendron ‌spp.

Prune in early spring before new growth

Deadhead flowers as they wilt to prevent fungal problems

Prune for height reduction over several years rather than all at once


Bougainvillea ‌spp.

Prune in early spring after flowering

Wear heavy gloves to protect against thorns


Buxus ‌spp.

Prune topiary boxwood in spring before new growth

Trim any time of year other than late fall, which risks winter damage

California lilac

Ceanothus ‌spp.

After flowering is done, prune branch tips to shape, and thin interior branches slightly

Most types flower late spring to early summer; do not tolerate heavy pruning

Cherry tomato plants

Solanum lycopersicum‌‌ var. ‌‌cerasiforme

Begin pruning when first flowers appear; remove suckers at base and in axils

Remove leaves at bottom 6-12" of stems to prevent disease; only remove leaves touching ground on determinate varieties

Cherry tree

Prunus‌​ spp.

Prune in early spring just before budbreak; this minimizes disease

Prune minimally to eliminate upright and vigorous growth

No pruning after July to prevent winter damage


Clematis‌ spp.

Early spring bloomers: Cut back when flowering doneSpring/early summer bloomers: Remove damaged stems, trim good stems back to strong buds

Prune spring and early summer bloomers back after first heavy bloom completed; cut to buds halfway down the stems

Prune late-blooming clematis to 24 inches above ground in late winter

Three types of clematis: early spring bloomers, spring/early summer bloomers, late blooming; pruning requirements differ


Coreopsis‌ spp.

Shear or individually deadhead flowers during growing season

Trim perenniels to 6" from soil if self-seeding not desired

Crepe myrtle

Lagerstroemia indica

Prune in early spring before new growth

Pinch back new growth during growing season to increase flowers

Prune sparingly to maintain tree's natural shape


Variety of genera including ‌‌Leucanthemum‌, ‌‌Belli, and ‌ ‌‌Gerbera

Pinch back stems and deadhead throughout growing season

"Daisy" describes a flower shape rather than a species

Dogwood trees

Cornus florida

Avoid summer pruning; the sap attracts dogwood borers

Prune in early winter after blossoms fade

No pruning for shape required; remove dead/damaged branches as needed

Eastern redbud

Cersis canadensis

Prune after blooms fade in late spring if you don't mind losing decorative seed pods

Prune dormant trees before buds form in spring if you want to keep seed pods

Most beautiful pruned to horizontally tiered branches

Fig trees

Ficus carica

Train fig trees from planting over five years to form branch structure

Prune mature trees (after training period) in late-winter dormancy

Regular pruning keeps trees at a manageable size and encouages vigorous growth


Forsythia‌ spp.

Prune in spring just after flowers fade

Leggy plants can be pruned to a height of 4"


Gardenia jasminoides

Deadhead faded flowers throughout growing season

Prune when last flower is finished blooming, typically midsummer

If cultivar blooms through fall, prune whenever flowers fade

Complete pruning before October; pruning later decreases next year's blooms




Prune leggy stem s to just above a leaf node

Deadhead throughout growing season

Gold thread + Golden mop cyprus

Chamaecyparis pisifera‌‌ 'Filifera Aurea' or ‌Chamaecyparis pisifera‌‌ 'Golden Mop'

Prune in early spring through midsummer

Prune lightly during growing season

Avoid fall/winter pruning to prevent winter damage

Shearing is not appropriate for the plants' growth habit

Hibiscus (Hardy hibiscus)

Hibiscus ‌spp‌.

Prune in spring before new growth emerges; prune old growth to 12" or less

Shape by pruninglightly after first bloom and when required during growing season

Best to prune in spring

Deadhead throughout growing season


Ilex ‌spp‌.

Prune varieties without berries in spring, summer, or fall

Prune varieties with berries in late winter, before new growth but after threat of severe temperatures

Holly needs no pruning but accepts it


Hosta spp.

Deadhead faded flowers

Remove all leaves at first frost to deter insect pests

Hydrangea — Bigleaf

Hydrangea macrophylla

Prune just after blooming in late summer; do not delay

Buds that form in late summer/early fall become next year’s flowers

Hydrangea — Limelight

Hydrangea paniculata ‌'Limelight'

Prune back each stem to a healthy bud in late winter

Trim before new spring growth to prevent loss of flower buds

Hydrangea — Smooth

Hydrangea arborescens

Prune to the ground in early spring

Don't prune at all if you want a larger shrub; buds set on new growth


Crassula argentea, Crassula ovata

Prune during growing season, when cuts will callus over

Remove no more than 30% of growth at any time

Japanese maple

Acer palmatum

May be pruned lightly in summer

Save major pruning for winter dormancy

Pruning needs are minimal unless tree is overgrown

Kousa dogwood trees

Cornus kousa

Prune after flowering, or wait until late winter

Prune in late winter just before new growth

Easiest to prune in winter, but this reduces spring flowers


Lavandula‌ ‌spp.

Hard-prune just after last frost or after final flowering

Prune just after final flowering or in early spring

Prune just after final flowering or in early spring

Bloom times vary; avoid removing buds before flowering season

Leyland Cypress

Cuprocyparis leylandii

Prune hedge trees in early spring (before new growth) for uniform height

Pruning is optional; will grow tall and keep pyramidal shape without aid


Syringa vulgaris

Prune after flowering; new buds will develop for next season

Tolerates heavy pruning

Mountain Laurel

Kalmia latifolia

Cold climates: prune in late spring during active growth

Warm climates: prune in late winter to avoid plant stress

Avoid over-pruning; dwarf varieties can tolerate more than larger types


Nandina domestica‌

Prune in late winter before new growth; remove up to 1/3 of canopy or cut 1/3 of leggy canes to ground

Annual pruning helps prevent spread of this invasive plant and keep it compact

Oakleaf hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

Remove dead/crossing stems in summer, cutting close to ground

Prune back stems in late winter or spring

Blooms on new wood; dry flower heads provide winter interest


Many different genera, family ‌ Orchidaceae

Prune in dormancy after blooming; remove old, unproductive growth and spent roots

Orchids bloom between midwinter to late summer then enter dormancy

Pear tree

Pyrus communis ‌or‌ Pyrus pyrifolia

Train new trees in early spring to establish branch structure

Remove water sprouts, root suckers, crossing branches

Prune heavily during dormancy to maintain compactness every few years

Avoid heavy annual pruning to decrease risk of fire blight

Peonies (herbaceous varieties)

Paeonia lactiflora

Remove older stems in late fall after first hard frost; cut dead stems to ground

Herbaceous peonies die back every fall and regrow in spring


Petunia spp.

Trim scraggly plants by 1/3 in July and/or Augustto neaten

Trim scraggly plants by 1/3 in mid-September to neaten

Removing blossoms does not remove seedpods

Plum trees

Prunus‌ ‌spp‌.

Prune in late winter or early spring before buds break

Train whips after transplant; prune too-large trees to slow growth

Avoid pruning late in growing season to prevent winter damage

Princess tree or Empress tree

Paulownia tomentosa

Prune to strengthen tree in early spring; remove dead wood and trim; thin branches after flowering

Prune into shorter shrub in autumn; prune to 4 ft., leaving a few branches on main trunk

For bigger leaves, cut back severely in winter


Rhododendron ‌spp‌.

Prune in early spring before new growth

Deadhead wilted flowers to prevent fungal problems

Pruning is seldom required, but trimming can reduce height


Rosa ‌spp‌.

Roses that bloom on old wood: prune after flowering;

Repeat bloomers: prune at budbreak to remove weak canes;

Others: trim back to 18"

Repeat bloomers: deadhead faded flowers

Pruning time depends on category, when it flowers, and whether it flowers on old or new wood


Rosmarinus officinalis

Prune leggy plants in early spring after new growth begins or in mid-fall

Prune leggy plants back in mid-fall

Remove dead wood to increase sunlight penetration

Salvia (Sage)

Salvia ‌spp‌.

Deadhead throughout season to promote more blossoms

Stop deadheading in winter to feed birds, or prune plant to 2" after first frost

Can be pruned back without fear of harming plant

Sedum (upright sedum)

Hylotelephium‌‌ spp.‌ or ‌‌Sedum spp.

Prune to the ground, or simply pinch back

Prune to the ground after first hard frost, or allow to overwinter

Can leave tall for winter and deadheaded in spring


Spiraea ‌spp‌.

Spring-flowering spirea: prune when blooms fade

Summer-flowering and Birchleaf

spirea: prune back in late-winter dormancy; these bloom on new wood

Spiraea benefit from vigorous pruning of old wood, reducing each stem by up to 1/3, leaving at least five buds

Star magnolia

Magnolia stellata

Prune, if necessary, after flowering is done; late pruning reduces next year's buds

Star magnolia need little pruning, if any

Sweet bay (Laurel)

Laurus nobilis

Prune to size in late winter to early spring

Little pruning is required

Tree peony

Paeonia suffruticos

Prune in spring before new growth starts to stimulate strong growth

Deadhead throughout the growing season.

Minimal pruning required beyond deadheading and removing dead wood

Tulip tree

Liriodendron tulipifera

Remove dead growth and thin in late winter

Pruning needed to control rapid growth


Weigela florida

Prune in late spring when flowers stop blooming

Flowers on old wood so prune promptly




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