#ProPlantTips for Care - A Pruning Guide for the Year!

#ProPlantTips for Care - A Pruning Guide for the Year!

Pruning Header

Pruning is a vital part of caring for your landscape plants. But when do you prune … everything? 

Certain plants need certain types of pruning at specific times of the year in order to grow, bloom, fruit and look their very best. Determining when these different types of pruning and when to do it, can seem daunting, but here is a great list to break it all down for you, taking the guesswork out of your annual landscaping chores! 

What to Prune and When:

Late Winter

When everything is completely dormant for the winter, now is the best time to prune many trees and woody shrubs. When leafless, it’s easier to see the branching structure!

  • Apple, Peach, Pear, Plum & Other Fruit Trees
  • Hydrangea Paniculata
  • Oak Trees
  • All Ornamental Grasses - Unless you are keeping the blooms for winter interest
  • Most Deciduous Woody Trees

Late Winter

Early Spring Before Flowering

Before or just as you see new growth emerging for the year. Shrubs that bloom in summer and fall form next year's flowers on that current year’s growth, so they can be pruned early spring without disturbing those blooms.

  • Honeysuckle Vines & Clematis
  • Most Roses
  • Flowering Shrubs - Abelia, Barberry, Buddleia, Sweetshrubs, Bluebeard, Bush Honeysuckle & Burning Bush
  • Spiraea bumalda - Which bloom in summer & fall
  • Hydrangea paniculata - Types that bloom on new wood
  • Rose of Sharon & Crape Myrtles - Both tree-form & shrub-form
  • Perennials - That you have left winter interest or seed heads on all winter
  • Annuals - Pinch now to encourage branching
  • Ornamental Grasses - If you left their blooms on for winter interest, cut down to just a few inches

early spring pruning

Late Spring

Because sap flows in certain trees in the spring, it’s important to know that pruning too early will create a sticky mess. Waiting until these trees flower in spring, or just when the new leaves show, is a good idea.

  • Maples
  • Walnut Trees
  • Birch
  • Poplars
  • Hornbeam
  • Elm

Before Flowering

Any shrub that blooms on new growth can be pruned in early spring before they start to grow to shape, reduce the size, and eliminate the old and thick, less vigorous wood.

  • Perennials & Annuals - Before flowering to delay their bloom or to create a bushier, fuller plant with more branching
  • Fruit trees, Shrubs & Specimen flowers - Decrease the number of blooms per stem & increase the size of individual flowers

After Flowering

It is very important to know which of your plants bloom on new wood. Should they get pruned at the wrong time, you may not ever see flowers. Generally, these plants form their flower buds on last year’s growth and they will bloom in spring, so pruning them in fall or early spring will cut off the flowers that formed. The best time to prune these plants is as soon as they finish blooming. Prune to reduce the size or change the shape, and remove the oldest thickest stems too.

  • Kousa & Dogwood Trees
  • Redbud Trees
  • Honeylocust Trees - Prune in June while actively growing & prevent spreading disease
  • Shrubs: Amelanchier, Aronia, Azaleas & Rhododendrons, Camellias, California Lilac, Flowering Quince, Rockrose, Daphne, Forsythia, Sweetspire, Leucothoe, Mahonia, Mockorange, Pieris, Lilacs & Weigela 
  • Viburnum - Unless you want fruit for birds
  • Holly trees & shrubs - Until after they bloom & pollinate female plants. Don’t prune female Holly so you can enjoy the bright red fruit
  • Hydrangeas that bloom on old wood 
  • Other Flowering Trees - Magnolia, flowering versions of Fruit trees & Crabapples, & Witchhazel
  • Deadhead Perennials & Flowering shrubs - Unless you’re keeping seed pods or fruit for winter interest
  • Fruit Trees & bushes - Time to thin fruit, creating larger fruit & decrease weight per limb
  • Fruiting & Flowering Trees - Prune to open the canopy for sunlight & air circulation. 

after flowering pruning

After Fruiting

To prevent removing next year's blooms that become next year's fruit, pruning after harvest or fruiting is done ensures you won’t diminish fruit set each year. 

  • Cherry Trees - Typically bloom & fruit early in the growing season, it's important to prune after fruiting is complete
  • Tropical Fruiting & Flowering Trees & Shrubs

As Soon As Foliage Yellows

Flowering bulbs form roots in the fall before going dormant, so the green foliage is very important for making food and storing energy for the next year’s blooms. So leaving the green leaves intact until they turn yellow, then you can trim the old leaves to the soil making room for other plants in your borders.

  • Spring & Fall Planted Bulbs - Hyacinth, Tulip, Muscari, Daffodils, etc.
  • Spring Planted Bulbs - Gladiolos, Canna Lily, Elephant Ears, etc. 
  • Spring Ephemerals 

after foliage yellows pruning

Early Autumn

Nights start getting cooler and some plants have already started shutting down for the year. Now is also the time to remove the leaves and stems that were diseased or dead to prevent overwintering in the old leaf litter.

  • Peonies
  • Annuals that are done for the year

early autumn

Late Autumn

Deciduous plants are shutting down at this time and it’s time to prune if the leaves have fallen off. Rake up these leaves and compost them or dispose of them to prevent disease or overwintering insect eggs from transferring to the new year.

  • Most Perennials - Remove spent leaves & stems, plus remove old growth to make room for new growth. Unless leaving intact seed heads for winter interest or bird food.
  • Daylilies & Hostas - Let die down from a heavy frost or two & then remove all of the old foliage. Discard for sanitation purposes.

Late autumn pruning

Special Plants & Situations

Wisteria Vines & Wisteria Tree-forms

Wisteria has a specific method of pruning that we suggest with a 2 step pruning cycle:

  • Early Spring - Remove dead/old limbs & shape
  • Summer Pruning - Shorten new growth by half after flowering to reduce the size
  • Read everything you need to know about Wisteria Pruning in our Garden Blog

Climbing Roses

Allow the first round of blooms to flower on the old canes from the previous year. Climbing Roses differ in that you will have to maintain some older canes until new shoots come from the ground. Then selectively remove the oldest, fattest stems to the ground after the first round of flowers.

Japanese Yews, Boxwood & Junipers

After their first flush of new growth for an informal look, make individual cuts on branch tips, or some like to shear them for a formal look. This is best done in early spring to remove any winter-damaged tips and again to reduce the amount of new growth in the first flush. 

Fruit Trees

Pruning fruit trees is a whole science and changes by region because of climate or insects or disease. 

It makes a big difference too if you have a newly planted young tree, or maybe you are renovating an older neglected fruit tree or orchard. Most suggest pruning Apples, Apricots, Peaches, Pears, Cherries or Plums during the winter when you can see crossing branches or broken or diseased branches that can be cut out. Young plants may not have those issues yet, and that may be more appropriate for older plants.

It is important to prune fruit trees right from the beginning so you can alter the form, opening up the center for air circulation and sunlight, and to select branches to best hold the weight of fruit without tearing the tree. Winter pruning is suggested to prevent the spread of disease or insects, and because you can see the branching of the plant. 

While many others suggest pruning fruit trees during the growing season to easily correct the form because those pruning cuts heal almost immediately with less chance of disease issues. So before pruning your fruit trees, it is a great idea to do a little homework to get the timing right for your area of the country.

Types of Pruning

Most pruning should be completed by mid-summer so any new growth that forms afterward will have time to ‘harden off’ before winter frost. 

annual pruning

Annual Cleaning

  • Removing dead or diseased, crossing branches - can be done any time, mostly late winter
  • Removing water growth & suckers - done in late spring or summer

Tip Pruning (Pinching)

tip pruning

Snipping off or literally pinching off the tips of growth before your plant flowers to encourage side branching and fullness. Done in Spring or as the new growth begins to expand.

  • Annuals, Perennials & Young shrubs
  • Candle pruning Pine trees - Read about this method in detail in our Garden Blog


thinning pruning

Removing the largest, thickest stems to make room for younger more vigorous stems, while also stimulating new growth.

  • Opens canopy for air circulation & sunlight
  • Roses, Evergreen shrubs & trees, Large shrubs


Heading back a tree or shrub means shortening up some of the lengths of the heading pruning longer stems by pruning them back to control the size and shape of your plant.


A light surface pruning to create a smooth and formal appearance to evergreens and hedges. Topiary and hedges are often sheared after they’ve completed their first spring flush of growth, and some hedges can be sheared again in mid-summer.

shearing pruning

  • Evergreen & Broadleaf Evergreen shrubs & trees
  • Hedge & Screening Plants - Prune so the limbs closest to the ground are wider and the tops narrower, no matter the maintained height. This ensures that they won’t shade out the bottoms and hold their foliage right to the ground for best screening
  • Arborvitae, Boxwood & Holly in formal situations

Renewal Pruning

Renewal pruning rejuvenates older, neglected shrubs by cutting out the oldest, thickest stems to the ground leaving the thinner younger stems in place to flower and fruit. This can also apply to removing the top third of a shrub to encourage a flush of new growth.

renewal pruning

  • Many Shrubby, Deciduous Flowering Shrubs - Especially those that bloom on last year’s growth, benefit from having the oldest, thickest stems cut out leaving the thinner, younger and more vigorous stems in place to flower and fruit
  • Flowering & Fruiting Trees & Shrubs - Flower & fruit better with a renewal pruning every third year
  • Red & Yellow Twigged Dogwoods, Lilacs & Viburnums - All respond beautifully to renewal pruning 
  • Bush Roses & Shrubs 

Cutting Back

cutting back pruningCutting back perennials and some grasses is a yearly task done to remove all of the old top growth from the previous growing season. This is best done either in fall for perennials that may have had diseased leaves or the old growth, or in early spring before there is new growth. Ornamental Grasses are best left up for winter to enjoy, and so the cut hollow stems don’t collect water which can cause problems.


topiary pruningSpirals, boxes, circles or cones, even pom-poms - Create unusually shaped shrubs or small trees with specialized cuts and training, combined with shearing to create a unique garden Topiary sculpture! 

  • Boxwood
  • Privet
  • Juniper
  • Holly
  • Grafted Spruce

Espalier espalier

Space-saving flat pruning technique that trains a tree or vine into a unique specimen that can act as a focal point or living wall/screen in the garden without taking up space. Read more here in our Garden Blog!

So Sharpen Your Shears!

Pruning is a very important part of garden maintenance! Nature Hills is happy to take the guesswork out of when and how to prune! Save time and prevent mistakes by allowing NatureHills.com to help you keep your garden growing beautifully every year!

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