So much of what makes a garden look cared for, is the attention that goes into looking after the overall structure of the planting design and then the plants, generally shrubs, that make up the planting design.

Plants, by the very nature that they constantly grow and change shape and density, need seasonal adjustment to keep them in check. Pruning shrubs is the most effective way of containing excess growth, and maintain good condition.

Reasons For Pruning Shrubs

Done properly and at the right time of year, pruning shrubs can help the overall appearance of the individual plant and the whole garden. Damaged branches can be removed, excess ‘leggy’ growth can be cut back, and misshaped bushes can be straightened out.

removing excess branch growth

Also, by the correct trimming back of certain species, the flowering opportunities to that particular shrub can be increased; not to mention enabling the shrub that has now grown larger, to be restrained in size to ensure it still fits within its plot.

The Best Time For Pruning Shrubs

Never prune trees and shrubs in the spring that drop their leaves in the winter. During the winter when the plants are dormant, mineral nutrients and carbohydrates are stored in the tissues of the plant. When spring begins, the sap rises up to all the growing points of the plant ready to spring into action.

If you’re pruning deciduous shrubs at this time of year, the sap will bleed out of the cut end and vital nutrients will be lost. Tree experts agree that keeping a good energy level in the tree is crucial to the long term health and survival of it.

On the other hand, spring is the best time to prune evergreen trees and shrubs. With spring being the main growing time for most plants, particularly in Mediterranean and other hot and dry climates, it’s useful to direct any new growth as it happens.

Despite the general rule of when to be pruning shrubs, it is a little different for flowering shrubs. It’s important to find out, if you don’t already know whether the flower buds form on this years growth or last years.

Many a gardener has wondered why their lilac trees never flower even though they religiously prune them in the autumn. They have been inadvertently cutting off all of the following years flower buds. In this case, lilac should be lightly pruned just after flowering.

How And Where To Cut When Pruning Shrubs

In order to get the best results when pruning shrubs, it’s important to know how and where to cut. Don’t forget that each cut is in effect a wound, and therefore clean and sharp tools should be used at all times, to avoid leaving snags and torn branches.

sawing through some tough shrubs

Cut close to, but above buds, and not into them is the basic advice. The cut should be about ¼ inch above the bud and at an angle, sloping away from the bud.

Pruning Young Shrubs

Pruning young shrubs helps establish a good shape and strong, balanced and vigorous growth. Any excessively long, weak or damaged shoots need cutting back on any shrub, but generally evergreen varieties seem to be fairly self sufficient.

Deciduous varieties are more likely to need a bit of help with shape and balance; young shrubs often produce long and leggy shoots which need a bit of tidying up to help their long term shape.

Any unevenness of the shrub can be corrected simply by lightly cutting back shorter shoots and harder pruning of the longer ones.

Pruning Older Shrubs For Rejuvenation

Some shrubs, and forsythia is one, can develop a mass of old and dead wood in the center, if they’re not pruned properly and regularly over the years.

The best way to give them a new lease of life is to tackle them during their dormant period and cut back any diseased, deformed and dead stems, then cut out every other stem. That’s not cut all the other stems, but cut one out, leave the next, cut the next one out… etc.

Some shrubs will cope with severe pruning and can be cut right back, nearly to the ground—Ribes is one of those. Mind you, if you do have any doubts, you may want to take some cuttings first, just in case!

For heavily pruned shrubs, extra care should be given in the form of plenty of water, fertilizer and pest control. As you can see, when you have shrubs in your garden, you can’t just plant and forget; like everything else garden related, they do need care and attention to get the best out of them.

In comparison to lots of other plants you may have in your garden, they’re certainly not high maintenance, but pruning shrubs is a necessary task for your gardening schedule that both you and your shrub will benefit from.