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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38 Comments

  1. did you start your clematis from a plant or seeds ?

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Glenda…I bought small plants at the garden center. Thank you!

  2. Marilyn Davis says:

    My blackberry bush had no berries this year but last year was awesome;! What happened?

  3. I’ve been gardening since I was a kid and always had trouble figuring out why I hadn’t had success with clematis. I believe you solved my issue ! Look forward to trying it again in my new yard . Thank you fantastic website. Shane in Winnipeg Canada.

  4. Rebecca Grace says:

    I have a clematis I bought 12 years ago at Home Depot. The variety is called “Pistachio”. It starts blooming in spring with a light pistachio color. When it fully opens it turns lavender with the green frilly center. It is gorgeous. I have never seen it since.
    Blue spruce pine trees, when is the time to prune lower branches?

  5. Becky Johns says:

    I have gardened for years but I found this extremely helpful and clearly written. I am sending it to all my children, who are new are the home owning scene and just starting their gardening careers. Well done!

  6. I am still confused for the clematis bloom before June do not prune but then you say if it blooms in spring prune in early summer. Can you clarify?
    We moved into a home that has a clematis & I believe it bloomed in late summer.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Hi Brunella…the key phrase is “before June.” If it blooms in April or May, you can prune in early summer which, in my opinion, is June. Actually, you can prune it anytime during the summer. If you have a late summer bloomer, wait until the following spring to prune. I hope this helps!

      1. Yes that helps. I was reading it as if it blooms before June don’t prune (at all). HA but that’s not what you meant. Anyhow thanks for clarifying. If it stops snowing here in PA I’ll be able to prune it soon & see if I get more blooms this summer. Thank you!

  7. Barbara Lloyd says:

    You answered my question about knock outs. I love on Sutton place.

  8. Mary Nell Harding says:

    This is very helpful information; thank you for sharing. Your blog is a favorite!

  9. DeAnn Gilkey says:

    Thanks for these tips. I am a self taught gardner too. It can be very confusing trying to remember when and what to prune. This is diffently going to be put in a handy place for a quick reference. I always enjoy your posts!!

  10. Charlotte Farley says:

    Thanks so much for your helpful tips. Pruning is indeed a learned thing. Crepe myrtles can be pruned in North Florida either before the winter or after. It does freeze here! I usually prune them in early winter here as it does tidy the yard.
    Thanks for your wonderful blog.

  11. Ann, Thanks so very much for this pruning guide; I was in bad need of it. I’d like to mention that I have had bad luck with growing shasta daisies. These were my great grandmother’s (Gran Gran) favorite flowers & I’d love to grow them. Do you have any information so I can be successful in growing shastas?
    Thanks so much for your wonderful blog–you’re my favorite.
    Cookie

  12. Every where I look outside I see snow. I am so anxious to see some signs of Spring. Loved the flower pictures in the pruning guide.

  13. JoAnn Baublitz says:

    When should I prune crepe myrtle?
    I have been confused about “when to prune” and you’ve made it simple. I thank you for clarifying it.

  14. Thanks for the tips. They are most helpful! My daughter and I were just discussing pruning last night! So I will pass your info on.
    I live in Tennessee and our winter this year has been cold! However, our summers can be sweltering with heat and humidity. So we love the early springs and falls. I enjoy your blog and appreciate the printables!

  15. Great information and printables. Thank you for sharing. Jean

  16. Karen Kowalik says:

    This is an excellent guide…thank You!

  17. Jack A. Diebold says:

    Greetings Ann,
    Great article on pruning. I am a 30 year veteran in the landscape industry and continue to learn new things every season. I enjoy reading other gardeners take on pruning, planting, designing, bed maintenance, etc. Besides confirming that which is already known, there is always something new to add to one’s ever growing library of garden facts, figures, stories and folklore. Keep up the good work. Happy Gardening!
    Jack

  18. You have the best information for plants! It is easy to understand and user friendly. Is there a ‘printer friendly’ version? I would love to have a copy that I can easily go to.
    Love your blog! I’ve saved so much information and so many recipes from it.

  19. Summer is the same for me,almost all inside projects can wait till winter.Love your blog always recommend it to my friends.

  20. Proper pruning is so important. Thanks for a great article.

  21. Loved reading this Ann. Thank you so much sweetie 🌸🌸🌸

  22. Happy Sunday to you! Love the pruning info and enjoy your posts very much!

  23. Barb Shannon says:

    Hi Ann. I love your posts….so informative and pretty. I always learn something new!
    I did join for your library printables but can’t remember my password and don’t know how to remedy this! Help?? Thank you so much.

  24. LindaSonia says:

    Thanks for not complaining. It is well with my soul to read this Sunday morn. It is still cold too where I live, but this too shall pass eventually. Patience is a virtue and all that …. :-)

  25. Patricia Ritchie says:

    I so enjoy your blog. It’s the first thing I open and always is well written. I offen go back to them when I need to refresh my memory. Also love wreaths. ❤️
    Thanks Pat

  26. My mom has a beautiful clematis that is huge and needs to be pruned. It already had buds when I looked at it a clue of weeks ago. Thanks for the prying tips. Very helpful! I am like you, I feel spring is coming … but summer is my season. Happy Sunday!

    1. I’m sorry. I hate auto correct! Pruning tips 😂

  27. So helpful and much needed! I always look forward to your new posts, always so uplifting, informative and friendly!
    Happy Spring, Patti

  28. thanks for the info on pruning…i love your printables and have your bunny in my frame now..i change it with seasons….also loved the easter cards…
    Spring is slowly arriving here in georgia

  29. Linda Choma says:

    It’s been years that I have requested a newsletter but yours is by far the best I’ve seen! I have even sent the newsletter to several of my friends for them to enjoy! I love the surprise of the printables, and the do print up simply n beautifully! Thank You

  30. Lorri Rauscher says:

    Ann, my gardening friend you did well with this post. You explained everything very well so that as a beginner gardener you understand the complexities of pruning. I wish I had this when I was started my gardening . I love gardening and I can see Spring coming as we speak.The pussy willows are out , waiting for me to clip them. Gardening soothes my Soul as weĺl.

  31. As a fellow novice but enthusiastic gardener, I appreciate your pruning guide. It will no doubt spare many gardening disasters for my longsuffering yard this year!

  32. Thank You, Ann! I totally will use your guide for pruning. I have made mistakes especially with hydrangeas. It was very helpful that you listed them by Variety.

  33. Gail Bell says:

    Ann, thank you for a very timely article. As a landscape/floral designer pruning is a question I get asked the most. Love your blog…you always give good info in a timely manner.I hear you on the cold feet. Spring must come, but for many it can’t get here soon enough.

  34. Great ideas for us “unprofessional “gardeners. I’m going to print the pruning guide off and follow.
    I bought new gardening gloves yesterday so I’m ready.
    I’m like you in that spring and summer soothe my soul.

    Thanks Ann. And spring is really coming. No matter what.