Keep an eye on your shrubs throughout the year, cutting out dead,
diseased, and damaged stems to keep the plants healthy. Remove any stems
that are crossing and rubbing against each other, all-green shoots on
variegated plants, and suckers on grafted plants. Cutting out badly
placed stems and reshaping plants will improve their appearance.
When to Prune
As a general rule of thumb, prune late-summer and fall-flowering plants,
which usually bloom on the current year’s stems, in early spring.
Spring and early-summer flowering plants bloom on the previous year’s
wood, and should be pruned after flowering, so that the new stems have
time to ripen before winter. To renovate most deciduous trees and
shrubs, prune in winter when the plants are dormant. For the majority of
evergreens, prune in spring, just as the new growth resumes.
Bear in mind that pruning deciduous plants in winter results in vigorous
regrowth in spring. Pruning in spring and early summer produces much
thinner growth, while summer pruning reduces the leafy canopy and the
plant’s food resources, resulting in relatively weak regrowth.
If you are not familiar with your shrubs, prune them lightly, and see
how they respond during the growing season. Prune newly-planted shrubs
cautiously, as they need to grow to develop their natural
beauty—although you may wish to encourage a good shape with a little
pruning. For example, boxwood (Buxus) or yew (Taxus) can be clipped
lightly into a sphere. Other plants, like heathers, just need shearing
over to remove spent flowers, and to promote neat growth. Tip pruning,
where the shoot tips are removed, can be carried out on young shrubs to
encourage a bushy habit.
Many plants that should be pruned cautiously will respond to renovative
pruning when they become too large for their site, their stems have
become congested, or flowering is poor. In these cases, cut back the
stems to near ground level when the plant is dormant, or buds are just
breaking, in late winter or early spring.
Cutting shrubs back to half their size works for those that resent being
pruned to a low framework, but flower on new wood, such as sun roses
(Cistus). Prune shrubs that flower on shoots produced the previous year,
such as broom, after flowering. Remove the old flowering stems and
shorten new stems to encourage more sideshoots—they will bloom the
Cutting back to soil level works for plants that send up shoots from below the ground, such as brambles (Rubus). The resulting canes are either colorful, or will flower and fruit prolifically. Leave a low framework of stems, 8–12 in (20–30 cm) high, from which new shoots can arise. Plants that produce young, colored stems, such as dogwoods (Cornus) and willows (Salix), can be pruned in this way in late winter.