Pruning 101

“The purpose of pruning is to improve the quality of the roses, not to hurt the bush.”
Florence Littauer

What is Pruning?

The practice of selectively removing plant parts (branches, buds, spent flowers, etc.) to manipulate the plant for landscape purposes.


Why Prune?

1. Accentuate an ornamental feature (flowers, fruit, etc.)

2. Control size.

3. Maintain plant health. Always cut out dead, dying, diseased or damaged wood:

    – Remove crossing or rubbing branches.
    – Maintain good air circulation within the plants framework.
    – Remove unwanted shoots.

4. Maintain a desired shape:

     – Know the plant and its natural shape, trying to fight it will lead to undesirable results.

    – Allow the plant to get a little bigger each year. Only trim half to two-thirds of the new growth.)

Pruning Techniques

Depending on the plant and desired effects, routine pruning is necessary in order to optimize the plant’s ornamental features.

Method 1: Trimming
A light pruning to maintain shape or size between late winter and late summer. Deadheading flowering plants encourages the production of more blooms.

Method 2: Annual Hard Pruning
Cutting back to a short framework. This is best for deciduous shrubs where the current season’s growth offers the best ornamental feature. Typically done in late winter or early spring.

Method 3: Rejuvenation or Thinning
Annually cut away one third of the oldest branches to keep the plant younger and stronger and to maintain good air circulation. This should occur in late winter/early spring or just after bloom for spring blooming plants.


Basic Tools for Pruning

Pruning shears, loppers or a small pruning saw.

We carry a great selection of tools for all your pruning needs.


When to Prune

The right time to prune depends on the type of plant, the desired outcome and the severity of the pruning. Pruning to remove broken, dead or diseased parts can be done at any time of year.

Most trees and shrubs, especially those that flower on current season’s new growth, should be pruned in late winter or early spring before the onset of new growth. (March-April).

Plants that bloom on previous season’s wood such as fruit trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and lilacs should be pruned immediately after blooming to maximize the next year’s flowering.


Summer flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, hydrangea*, crape myrtle, roses, spirea and privet should be pruned before bud break in the spring. Now is also the time to prune fruit trees and evergreens such as arborvitae, holly, boxwood, juniper and yew.


Prune most spring flowering trees and shrubs right after they flower. This includes andromeda, azalea, forsythia, rhodo- dendron, lilacs, dogwoods, flowering cherry and plum trees and some hydrangea varieties.*


This is the preferred time to thin most deciduous trees such as birch, linden, maples, flowering cherry and plums, spruces and honey locust. Prune hedges as needed to maintain shape.


Heavy pruning at this time could result in the stimulation of new growth that may not have enough time to mature before winter, making it prone to frost damage. Limit pruning to the removal of dead or damaged branches only during this time.

Download or print a PDF of Pruning with Purpose


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