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Pruning shrubs, technique, season

Shears for pruning shrubs and trees

Pruning shrubs is an important part of their development, their blooming or simply the harmonious shape of your specimen.

Far from being a difficult task, it can even become a true pleasure for you once you master the few important and simple tricks to master this practice.

Pruning truly serves as a rejuvenating fountain of youth for plants. It is always beneficial and helps them grow back more beautiful than ever.
There are 2 major shrubs categories: evergreen and deciduous.

When should shrubs be pruned?

Depending on the type of shrub, there are 3 moments when pruning and trimming can take place:

  • At the end of winter
  • At the beginning of summer
  • In fall

Shrubs that bloom in spring aren’t pruned at the end of winter but at the end of the blooming season. This is most often at the beginning of summer.

Pruning shrubs with deciduous leafage
(those that lose their leaves)

  1. Shrubs that bloom in spring
    These are pruned at the end of the blooming, when the flowers are wilting.
  2. Summer-flowering shrubs
    First start with a light pruning at the end of winter.
    Remove dead branches or those branches that may have frozen over winter. After the blooming, balance the general shape of the shrub and clear its center somewhat to give it as much light as you can.
  3. For all shrubs except for those that bloom in winter
    In fall, prune lightly, more for aesthetic purposes than anything else.

Pruning shrubs with evergreen leafage
(those that keep their leaves)

  1. At the end of winter, during the month of March, we focus on giving the shrub its desired shape.
    This step is all the more relevant that the shrub is part of a hedge. This first pruning is the one that can be the most severe.
  2. At the beginning of summer, it bodes well to refresh your specimen in that you balance the shape of the shrub, eventually removing branches that are too long or would seem ungainly.
  3. In fall, work on the silhouette lightly, but do not prune the larger branches.
    Severe pruning in fall could weaken the shrub and make it more vulnerable to frost.

Pruning shrubs is an easy practice to master.
Your plant will grow back with even more vigor, and since each specimen is unique, your experience will build up into true mastery.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Shears ready for use by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd under © CC BY 2.0
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  • Martyn Sloman wrote on 22 March 2022 at 14 h 08 min

    I have an old guilder rose which I feel is beyond pruning. It has heavy branches etc. and no longer looks attractive.
    I would like to cut it back to about 1 to 2 feet above ground level. Is it likely to recover from this drastic action?

    • Gaspard wrote on 2 April 2022 at 2 h 02 min

      Hi Martyn, when you cut it back all at once, there’s a high risk of killing it. Best is to do it over two or three years. Here is a guide on cutting back guelder rose.

  • Danny ROGERS wrote on 15 December 2019 at 6 h 07 min

    Can you prune snow balls trees after Christmas or on the first of January?

    • Gaspard wrote on 15 December 2019 at 6 h 08 min

      Hi Danny, it depends on the particular species. A general guideline is not to prune during freezing weather. So if the weather forecast shows freezing within the coming week, best not prune.

      After that, depending on the type of snowball tree:

      – some varieties flower in spring or summer. If you prune these in Winter (supposing you’re in the Northern hemisphere), you’ll be cutting most of the dormant flower buds off. It’s better to let the shrub bloom in Spring. When the flowers start dropping, prune. This is the case for such snowball trees as guelder-rose and Japanese snowball.

      – other varieties are winter-blooming snowball trees. These can be pruned in winter, but again best is to wait after the blooming (just so you can savor the flowers). For example, the Lisarose blooms in fall so if the flowers have faded away, you can go ahead and prune without compromising next year’s blooming. Other snowball bushes that bloom in fall or winter include Laurestine.

      So to sum it up, if it isn’t freezing in your area, you can go ahead and prune your snowball tree between Christmas and New Year’s, but depending on they variety, you might not have any blooming in the following year.

      In the off chance that you actually meant the bush that bears small white berries in snow-ball-like white clusters, simply read this article on snowberry. It shares that pruning is best done at the beginning of spring.