Pruning Shrubs

Pruning shrubs too early can cut off flowers

Pruning is one of the most widely written about gardening subjects — and one of the most difficult to explain. Pruning a plant is like painting, or sculpture — you can create virtually any shape from the plant before you. So this article will just present the theory behind pruning, and let you go to it.

Shrubs that will flower this spring set their flower buds last fall. Pruning these shrubs in the early spring will therefore cut off all the potential flowers. For best result, spring flowering shrubs should be pruned just after their flowers drop.

Before you bring out your sharp pruning saw and secateurs, think about why you are pruning the plant.

  • For appearance
  • To control height and width
  • To rejuvenate a neglected shrub

Your reasons for pruning will determine how much wood you remove, and from where you cut it. Another rule of thumb in pruning is to remember to stand back and look at your plant every time you make several cuts. This will help prevent unbalanced pruning.

As mentioned before, the tools you need for pruning are: a sharp pruning saw and a pair of secateurs. Many people fall into the misguided practice of trimming their flowering shrubs with hedge shears to create an unnaturally round head. This spoils the natural form and beauty of the plants. If you want to have formally clipped shapes, it’s best to plant yews or boxwood.

Most flowering shrubs grow in a naturally arching form, and need to have only the two or three oldest, thickest stems removed at ground level every year or so. If you are pruning to reduce the height or width of the shrub, always remove branches back to where they join with the main stem. This will eliminate the branch stubs that are the mark of incorrect pruning

These are some of the shrubs that are considered to flower in the spring: flowering quince, deutzia, forsythia, privet, honeysuckle, magnolia, mock orange, flowering cherry and almond, rhododendron, viburnum and bridalwreath spirea.

This information is provided by Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association, one of the most vibrant associations of its kind in North America, comprised of over 2,000 members, nine sector groups and nine local chapters. Visit to find a professional member near you.