How to Determine the Best Time to Prune Trees and Garden Shrubs
In general, you should prune when plants are in their dormant or resting
period, preceding a time of active growth during which the wound will heal
rapidly. The usual time chosen is late winter or early spring. Then cuts have a
long time in which to heal before the following winter. Another advantage of
dormant-season pruning is that leaves are not present, or not fully grown; it is
easier to see what you are doing.
Exceptions are plants that flower in the spring from buds made
the previous season. Winter pruning would destroy the current year's
bloom. Such plants--the spring-flowering shrubs--should be pruned as
soon after their blossom period as possible, in order to give them
the maximum time to make new growth on which you will get next
What to Prune in Late Winter or Early Spring:
- Narrow-leaved evergreens (conifers) to improve their shape,
keep them in bounds, induce bushy growth, or thin out unwanted
branches. These include arborvitae, juniper, pine and yew.
- Broad-leaved evergreens grown primarily for foliage rather
than flowers, such as box, Japanese holly, euonymus, privet,
- Summer-flowering shrubs, vines, etc. You will not destroy
the coming season's flower buds since they will develop on new
growth made after you prune. Included are butterfly bush, crape
myrtle, Hills of Snow hydrangea, hydrangea peegee, Chinese
hibiscus, rose of Sharon, lantana, oleander, trumpet vine,
- Frost-injured plants. When danger of further freezing is
past, cut away killed parts at your earliest convenience. There
is no rush, for the frozen parts do no immediate harm to the
remainder of the plant.
- Shrubs with colorful winter twigs. Shrub types of dogwood,
having either red or yellow stems, have brightest coloring on
young branches. If you are growing them primarily for their
winter effect, rather than summer screening, cut established
bushes back severely each spring to promote the most new growth
- Bush roses (hybrid teas, floribundas, grandifloras,
miniatures) to repair winter damage, shape plants to induce
flower-bearing shoots. This type of rose blooms on new growth.
- Climbing roses, which should have only winter-killed parts
removed at this time, because in most types blooms develop on
shoots arising from old wood. Any cane that has lived through
the winter is a potential source of flowers, and therefore
precious. For details see the article on roses.
What to Prune After Flowering:
- Shrubs or vines that have their flowers in spring, such as
forsythia, flowering dogwood, crab apple, rhododendron, azalea,
- Climbing roses. For details see the article on roses.