A Beginner’s Guide On Shrub Pruning

Shrubs are a great way to dress up a home or business at a modest cost, which is why bushes, ferns, and similar plants remain so popular. Underneath their many differences, shrubbery comes in two varieties. 

Evergreen shrubs stay green all year and put out flowers for part of the year. They provide a different aesthetic from deciduous plants, which stop growing in the winter and turn green. This is why flowering shrubs are so popular.

There are right ways and wrong ways to care for your shrubs once they are in the grown. Read on to find out what you should and should not do to keep your shrubs healthy and looking great.


Types of Pruning

Your average gardener thinks of pruning as a general cutting or clipping back. Landscapers tend to think of pruning as four different activities performed for different reasons. Here are the four kinds of pruning:



Cutting back to a stump is the right pruning strategy when the shrub has overgrown its space or is damaged by disease, natural disaster, or accident.


Natural Pruning

This is the process of cutting any dead parts of the shrub or just thinning out the foliage to enable new growth. This is what most people are doing when they prune their shrubs. Regular trimming is aesthetic and keeps shrubs healthy.



Cutting down or rounding off the bush to give it the desired shape. Some thinning is usually recommended at the same time. You might want to prune branches that touch the grown or intrude into sidewalks and footpaths. You may also want to cut back branches that touch a wall.


Renewal Pruning

This is like natural pruning, but the point is to cut away dead parts of the shrub and thin it out. This type of pruning gives the lower part of the shrub room to grow.

As you can see, different bush trimming activities serve different purposes.

Shrubs need regular pruning to keep them healthy, looking great, and producing the flowers people like.


General Pruning Notes

Time is usually of the essence to get the best results with shrub pruning. Adjust your pruning schedule to suit the lifecycle of each variety. Spring flowering shrubs like a rose of Sharon (hibiscus) and lilac bushes shouldn’t be trimmed too early. 

Rejuvenation pruning is a good idea in later winter or early spring, though, because this enables new growth in warm weather.

As a general rule, consider doing your heavy pruning work in the late winter or early spring. Labor Day weekend is most likely too late. At this point, you are likely to keep the shrub from producing flowers and fruit.

However, you may also want to turn some of your work over to our trained arborists can also shape things for you, while we also prune and look out for pests or diseases.


Things To Do

Following certain guidelines will give you the best results if you want to do your shrub pruning. Many of these tips apply to pruning trees as well.

Do prune each shrub when you plant it. 


  • Cut away any dead branches immediately. Cut any roots that are wrapping around the root ball. You also want to cut off broken roots or large roots. What “large” means can vary, but in general, anything fatter than a finger needs to go.


  • Learn the life cycle of your shrubs. Forsythia, lilac, and several other bushes produce buds in the fall. Those buds will produce next year’s flowers, so you don’t want to cut them. All or most flowering shrubs follow this pattern.


  • Make regular, light shrub pruning part of your lawn care routine. Keep this maintenance pruning to a minimum, though, just cutting off as much as necessary. Cut off the wilted, damaged, and dead branches as soon as you see them.


  • Like hydrangea that produce canes from their roots, some species can be kept healthy by cutting off the largest and oldest canes. One rule of thumb is to prune one-third of the canes, though this rule varies by plant species.


  • Consider each shrub’s natural shape when deciding how to trim it. Find out what the plant looks like when fully grown. Try to prune it to maintain that form. 


  • Consider the ultimate shape of the bush when deciding where to plant it. This is an easy way to avoid overcrowding, which is unattractive and leads to extra work.


  • Prune a dying shrub to rejuvenate it. You can cut out some of the older branches or stems to give new growth a chance.


Things to Avoid

You want to avoid certain behaviors when pruning shrubs or a tree.

Don’t use rusty or dull shears or saws. Dull cutting surfaces can damage the bush, which opens them up to disease.

Don’t neglect cleaning. You should clean your pruning tool after use or when switching from one shrub to another. You can use a 10% solution of bleach in water or some rubbing alcohol.

Don’t trim the tops off vertical shrubs. This seems like an obvious way to keep them from growing too tall, but it won’t work. Vertical pruning like this produces shoots that grow up above the top of the shrub, creating an untidy growth.

Don’t leave long stubs when you cut branches. Whenever possible, these stubs should be pruned to within a quarter-inch of the trunk. Any longer stub may be vulnerable to insects. At a quarter-inch, you are typically down at the branch collar, the bumpy tissue at the junction of the branch and stem with lots of plant-growth cells.

Don’t prune your shrubs in the fall because this will spark new growth. When the shrub goes dormant in winter, you can trim it as needed.

Bushes that produce buds in the late summer or fall should not be pruned with care because the buds they produce in late summer or early fall will bloom next summer.

Don’t let your shrubs get too dense because this interferes with growth. The dense mesh of leaves and small branches cut down on light and reduces airflow through the plan. If a shrub looks extra dense with leaves and small branches than it should be, cut one-third of the branches back to the trunk.

Finally, keep in mind that tree pruning is a different thing. Trees come with their own rules, and cutting away old wood, for example, might hurt more than help.


Enlist the Lawn Care Experts in Denver, CO

Want some expert help with shrub pruning, tree pruning, and overall landscape care? Call us to talk about our services and get an estimate. We are thoroughly experienced in caring for trees, bushes, grown cover, and grass that thrives in the Denver area.

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