One of the most common questions we get asked on a regular basis is, "When should I prune my shrubs?"
It is a good question, so let's go over some basic rules of thumb:
1. Your shrubs may not need to be pruned at all. Several flowering shrubs grow very well and stay a manageable size with no pruning at all.
If your shrub is flowering every year, looks great and is a good size, leave it alone, it doesn't need any help.
Two key indicators that let you know when a shrub does need pruning are:
- If the flowers become less and less, like lilacs or roses do over time, then your shrub will need to be pruned to re-invigorate it.
- If you have an evergreen shrub or hedge with no flowers, but the size is getting out of control, then you'll need to prune to manage its size.
2. If your plant does need to be pruned, check its flowering time first. You don't want to accidentally prune off the flowers.
Two general rules of thumb are:
- Spring flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering
- Summer flowering shrubs should be pruned in the fall or winter
There are some exceptions to this, such as hydrangeas (More hydrangea pruning tips here) but the above rules apply to most shrubs.
3. Rejuvination Pruning
If you plant is getting leggy, or you have shrubs such as lilacs or roses that need "rejuvination pruning" which is a severe pruning that needs to be done every year or every few years, this type of pruning is always best done in late winter or early spring. (For more read: How To Prune Roses)
4. Trimming Back
This can be done at any time of the year on evergreen or deciduous shrubs and hedges. This is a mild, light pruning where branches are shortened only by 1/4 to 1/3 of their length. This is done to help shape or re-size a shrub, and if trimming is done regularly throughout the year, you will help many plants from ever needing any hard pruning at all.
5. Dead or Stray Branches
This, like trimming, can be done any time of the year. You can also always remove any broken or diseased branches that will help the plant maintain its vigor and health.
6. The Silver Lining
If you really mess up, don't worry - the plant will always adjust and grow back in time and you'll have learned what not to do! But if you follow the basic guidelines above, you'll always prune your shrubs at the right time of year.