Pruning Shrubs


When we prune shrubs, we want to maintain the natural shape of the plant and make it healthier. Whether your shrub is completely overgrown or just needs a little shaping up, here’s how to do it.

Remember, prune summer- and fall-blooming shrubs in early spring, but prune spring bloomers right after they bloom.

Keep your shrubs flowering year after year with good pruning technique.

Keep your shrubs flowering year after year with good pruning technique.

  1. Grab a partner. You can do this alone, but especially with overgrown shrubs, it’s easier to have someone else watching.
  2. Crawl under the shrub. Shrubs grow from multiple stems from the ground, so hunt around to find the longest stem.
  3. Shake that stem so your partner can tell you if it’s the longest one.
  4. Cut that stem to the ground using pruners (for relatively small branches) or a pruning saw (for larger ones). This is called a thinning cut.
  5. Repeat until you have cut away up to one-third of the stems. We try to cut primarily older stems to allow newer ones to grow up. By cutting stems to the ground, you open up the center of the shrub to light, reduce the size of the shrub, and rejuvenate growth.
  6. Crawl out from under the shrub and take a look.
  7. If you need to, make a few heading cuts to take off scraggly branches. Cut right above an existing leaf or bud, or cut at the branch joint.
  8. Unless you’re working on a formal (sheared) hedge, don’t shear your shrub. Slicing off the tender green growth just encourages the shrub to put on more leggy new growth.
  9. Walk away.

If your shrub is extremely overgrown, cut down 1/3 of the stems this year, and repeat for the next two years. By the end of the third year, you’ll have completely removed all old wood and rejuvenated the shrub!

Amy graduated from DePauw University with a degree in physics, a lifelong love of theatre, and a problem-solving style that combines the approaches from both those fields. A Master Gardener and long-time communications professional, Amy conducts gardening seminars and blogs about gardening in addition to her work with Spotts.

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2 comments on “Pruning Shrubs
  1. Thanks, Amy for this post about pruning. I pruned my lilac and serviceberry last night but didn’t know about my leatherleaf vibernum. Looks like I’ll be trimming up the vibernum tonight 🙂 Cheers, -Joshua

    • Amy Mullen says:

      We love serviceberry! Leatherleaf viburnum is pretty low maintenance, so you needn’t do much pruning on it unless it’s grown out of bounds. Happy pruning!

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