Garden Pruning Guide: What to Prune & When

An easy-to-follow garden pruning guide for basic plant and shrub categories that is perfect for the beginner gardener!

An easy-to-follow garden pruning guide for basic plant and shrub categories that is perfect for the beginner gardener!

As a self-taught gardener, many things about plant care have challenged me. When to plant, how much to water, should I fertilize…and the list goes on. However, nothing has confused me more than “when to prune.” I’ve made many mistakes, and had to sit out whole growing seasons with bloomless plants. Some pruning guides are difficult to understand unless you are a master gardener.

My goals for this garden pruning guide are:

  • To very simply tell you when and how to prune a variety of easy-to-grow plants. 
  • Provide you with new plant ideas for your garden.

I believe that knowing how to care for a plant before it goes in the ground is half the battle. There is nothing worse than planting something new, only to find out that it takes a lot of time and effort to keep it healthy. Simple gardening is every bit as satisfying as the complicated version. 

*Some links lead to websites where I am an affiliate. Click HERE for my disclosure statement.

The Proper Pruner

We all need good tools of the trade. The best kind of pruner is truly a matter of opinion. My favorite is [a bypass pruner.] They work well for a variety of plants. I would highly recommend that you choose pruning shears that fit your hand. It’s very hard to control pruning shears that are too big for you. My best advice is to stay away from anvil pruners. They are bigger and tend to smash the stem at the cut. (Feel free to use them on dead wood if you have any of that.)

Forsythia branches & bypass pruners. An easy-to-follow garden pruning guide for basic plant and shrub categories that is perfect for the beginner gardener!

The OSP Garden Pruning Guide

Spring Flowering Trees & Shrubs

Examples: Lilac, Forsythia, Rhododendron 

Plants that bloom in the spring should be pruned in late spring/early summer, when the plant is finished producing blooms and the blooms have faded. To help the plant stay full and shapely, remove some of the older shoots at ground level. 

Summer Blooming Trees & Shrubs

Examples: Butterfly Bush, Viburnum, Potentilla, Bluebeard 

The rule of thumb for summer blooming plants is to prune them in late winter or very early spring before any new growth appears. Most bloom on new wood so trimming them in early spring will encourage new growth and abundant blooms. 

Hydrangeas

Garden Pruning Guide: What to Prune and When. Easy to follow guide for basic plant and shrub categories. Perfect for the beginner gardener!

No garden pruning guide would be complete without the mention of hydrangeas. There are two basic groups of hydrangeas. Those that bloom on old wood and those that bloom on new growth. To make matters even more confusing, some hydrangeas bloom on both. Lacecap, mophead and oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on old wood. They should be pruned in mid to late summer, after their blooms are spent. Newer varieties like Endless Summer, bloom on both old and new wood so you can prune them any time and still get lovely blooms. The same goes for PeeGee, Limelights and Annabelles. 

To read more about my limelight hydrangeas click {HERE.} To read about my Annabelle Hydrangea, click {HERE.}

annabelle hydrangea blooms on bush

Roses

Roses come in so many varieties that it’s mind-boggling. To simplify matters, I have divided them into two categories: Roses that bloom once a year and repeat bloomers.

  • Roses that bloom once a year should be pruned after blooming. These are mostly old garden roses such as Damasks and climbers.
  • Repeat blooming roses should be pruned to shape and/or to remove wood that was damaged by winter. Early spring is the best time to do this. Examples of repeat bloomers are shrub (knock-out) roses, miniatures, floribundas and grandifloras. 

Broad Leaf Evergreens

Examples: Holly, Magnolias, Azaleas 

The best time to prune broadleaf evergreens is in the late spring after they bloom. You can also prune in early spring before new growth appears but that can get tricky. By pruning in early spring you run the risk of cutting off any new blooms. The safest bet is to wait until the blooms are spent. 

Needle Leaf Evergreens

Examples: Douglas Fir, Cypress, Juniper, Spruce 

Most needle leaf evergreens don’t need pruned every year. Some can go up to 3 years and still maintain their shape. If you do need to prune, it’s best to do it early in the growing season. Needle leaf evergreens are wonderful for holiday decorating. Branches can be cut for indoor use without bothering the plant. 

Clematis

I’m not going to lie…most plants in the garden pruning guide are relatively straight-forward, but knowing when to prune clematis can be confusing. The key to proper clematis pruning is knowing when your plant blooms.  

pink clematis flower clematis vine on lightpost

Clematis that blooms in the Spring
Vines that bloom in early spring should be pruned after all the blooms are spent. These early blooming varieties bloom on the previous years growth…which means do NOT cut it back in the fall. If you do, you will have to sit out a blooming season. Just remember this rule:

“If it blooms before June, do not prune.” 

Garden Pruning and What's Blooming | Easy to understand pruning guide from a DIY gardener along with a look at her garden blooms.

Summer Bloomers

Clematis that blooms in late spring or early summer should be cut back in fall or early winter, after the bloom period. Removing the dead wood should be sufficient but to keep these hardy bloomers under control, they can be hard pruned every couple of years. 

Sweet Autumn Clematis | A Fall Blooming Beauty. Tips for growing, supporting, and pruning sweet autumn clematis. Blooming Sweet Autumn Clematis on a fence.

Late Summer/Fall Bloomers

Late blooming clematis (end of summer or fall) should be cut back hard in early spring. Every vine should be cut to about a foot tall. The plant will have all spring and most of the summer to grow. The picture above is a Sweet Autumn Clematis. 

As I sit here writing this, snow is falling and my feet are cold. I’m not really complaining, just stating facts. (Well…maybe I’m complaining a little, but compared to others, we have had a very mild winter.) Anyway, spring really is on the way and after that comes summer. Of all the seasons, summer is when I’m most relaxed, and when I love where I live. I take a break from inside projects, and spend time outside in the yard. Summer literally soothes my soul and replenishes my spirit. I’m looking forward to it immensely.

Thank you so much for stopping by…see you soon.

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