How and When to Prune

pruning shears

Pruning or trimming plants and trees is vital to their care. This guide will help you with the task if you’ve never done it or are unsure of proper techniques.

For most pruning jobs you’ll need three basic tools: pruning shears, loppers, and a pruning saw. Strive to keep them sharpened for cleaner cuts and disinfect the blades with a bleach solution after pruning diseased plants or trees.

Proper Pruning Techniques

Below are pruning instructions for some common plants and trees:

Roses, Rose Bushes

Prune in winter or early spring when plants are still dormant. Pruning will maintain symmetrical bushes and to encourage growth. Cut back all previous year’s growth (up to a third its length) and remove branches that cross through the center of the bush. Remove weak and dead stems and understock to encourage new growth.

Crepe Myrtles

February is the best time to prune crepe myrtles. Remove any dead or twiggy stems and branches that crowd or cross through the center of the plant. If tree form prune the lower branches and the top to maintain symmetry. Each year after flowering cut 12 to 18 inches off the tips of all branches that have bloomed.

Hollies, Holly Bushes

Pruning is done on hollies mostly to shape the plants rather than encourage growth. Prune in winter or early spring by removing wayward branches and all dead, weak or unproductive stems as needed.

Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bushes bloom in summer on new spring growth, and can be pruned in late winter or early spring. Cutting back old blooms will encourage new flowers. Remove all old, dead or unproductive branches.


Hydrangeas fall into two groups – those you prune in early spring and those that are pruned after the flowers fade.

Early Spring Pruning – For hydrangeas that bloom on new growth such as Grandiflora, PeeGees, Annabelle, and climbing hydrangea.

After-Bloom Pruning – For hydrangeas that bloom on last year’s stems such as Lacecaps, Nikko Blue, SummerBeauty, Bigleaf and Oakleaf hydrangeas. Prune the bush after the flowers have faded by cutting back the flowering stems to the strongest pair of new shoots. As plants mature thin out the oldest woody stems and remove dead, weak, broken or crowded branches.

Clematis, Clematis Vine

There are three types of clematis: twice-flowering, Spring-flowering, and Summer-flowering.

» Spring-blooming – These clematis produce flowers on stems that grew during the previous year. When flowers are done blooming cut back spent flowers and prune any old or dead stems.

» Summer-blooming – These plants bloom on new growth produced in the spring. Prune in late autumn or early spring before new growth begins. Removing about 12 inches of old growth each year will encourage a larger and stronger vine.

» Twice-blooming – These clematis first bloom in the spring on stems produced the previous year and then again in late summer or early fall. Prune lightly to thin the stems in late fall or very early spring. After the spring bloom, prune more heavily to encourage healthy stems to develop for the next bloom. Remove faded flowers after the second bloom.

Pruning Fruit Trees

Some of the more common fruit trees:

» Apple Trees – Apple trees should be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. Always remove all suckers (summer is a great time). Also remove dead and other unproductive branches as needed.

» Peach Trees – Peach trees are fast growing and need to be pruned in winter. Without pruning the peaches will grow farther away from the tree’s center. This will put great strain on the branches, causing them to break. In winter, thin out upward-growing branches that cross in tree’s center.

» Pear Trees – Prune back in early spring. Always prune dead and unproductive branches as needed.

» Cherry Trees – Prune in winter. Prune out branches that cross in center and dead unproductive branches as needed.

Azaleas and Rhododendrons

The same pruning technique applies to both rhododendron and azalea. The best time to prune is just after the spring blooming period. Although both can be pruned in winter or early spring, pruning at this time will prevent plants from producing many blooms.


Juniper varieties need very minimal pruning, which is mainly done to correct their shape, accent their form, or to limit their size. This should be done during the juniper’s growing stages in mid-summer.

Flowering Trees

Flowering trees should be pruned as little as possible and only after they have finished their blooming season. Dead or unproductive branches and those that cross through the center of the tree should be removed.

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