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  • Writer's pictureDarcy Morehouse

What To Prune And When

We're back!! Oh how I've missed you all.

I've been meaning to put this post together for a while, mostly because selfishly I need some kind of a handy reference guide to remember when to prune the azalea or any of the 987 different varieties of hydrangea I gotta keep track of (I love hydrangea / I hate hydrangea).

We're gonna keep this high level, because there are literally 702 book results when you search for pruning at Northshire Books (granted, one of them is a WWII memoir called "Prunes for Breakfast", so the quality of my research is shaky at best), but I don't have time for all that and ya'll don't need all that anyway.

Here's what you do need to know.



Late winter is the time to do the major pruning on most trees & shrubs. This is when you can take some serious volume off with minimal damage to the plants. As a bonus, a late winter pruning will often boost bloom production which means more fruits and flowers!

  • Fruits - Apple, pear, cherry, peach, blueberry & blackberry

  • Flowering Trees & Shrubs - Butterfly bush, rose of sharon, beauty bush, roses, panicle and smooth hydrangea, tulip tree, spirea, gardenia

  • Evergreen Shrubs - Arborvitae, juniper, holly, boxwood, viburnum

DON'T prune the lilac, forsythia, viburnum, dogwood, or magnolia. Basically anything that blooms in really early spring, hold off on until they have finished blooming. Unless they're really ugly. Then hack away.


Once the early spring bloomers have bloomed, then it's safe to prune them. It's really safe to prune before they've bloomed too, but you'll just cut all the flowers of and it won't be as pretty.

  • Forsythia - These will get CRAZY if you don't keep them under control. As soon as they're done blooming, cut them back. They may even need another cleanup in winter. (Bonus tip: as soon as you see the forsythia blooming, you know it's time to put down your pre-emergent in the lawn)

  • Viburnum - Cut from the base, feel free to cut liberally... These guys can get out of hand too.

  • Dogwood - Dogwoods are pretty low maintenance, they should keep their shape pretty well. Just take care of dead & diseased wood, with the ocassional shape and size reduction.

  • Magnolia - These are REALLY tricky... They look super awkward if they're pruned incorrectly. They're also finicky and dramatic. Try to keep an open crown, and cut back to a fork in the branches. DO NOT TOP magnolias, they don't like it. If you're unsure, and still want to try it yourself, go easy. Take care of dead branches, suckers, and any branches that are crossing others.

Other than those, there's not a lot to do in the spring. With pruning, I mean. There's plenty to do in spring.


There's honestly not a ton of stuff that gets major pruning in summer either, it's really just about shaping and neatening. Things will be growing like crazy, so you may need a couple of mid-season trims to keep everything looking sharp.

There are a couple of plants though with a window in the summer that is key pruning season, and I always forget about them until it's too late and the window has shut and I'm stuck with overgrown hydrangea, but then again, who ACTUALLY knows when the hell to prune hydrangea???

  • Hydrangea - Oakleaf and bigleaf hydrangea bloom on old wood, so the time to prune them is right after they finish blooming

  • Roses - Deadhead, remove dead wood, and do some minimal shaping to boost late-season rose blooms

  • Azalea - AS SOON as the azalea is done flowering, give it a good pruning and there's a good chance you can get a second bloom out of it

  • Lilac - Prune these right after flowering too

Be careful pruning in summer for a couple of reasons. First, it's prime time for disease and fungus to attack plants, and open cuts are vulnerable. It also encourages new growth which won't have enough time to really get established and harden off before winter hits.


Ok, yeah same here... There's not a lot that is recommended to prune in the fall, for the same reasons (disease, fungus, new growth, I’m tired in the fall). Then again, my overall rule of thumb when it comes to gardening, parenting, cooking, and life, is to do whatever the f-- you want.

Cut back the dead stuff, pull out weeds, cut back your perennials, and then wait for a couple of good hard frosts before doing some major pruning.


It feels like a lot, I know babe, but it's really not that bad. This covers a whole year. You got this.

If you don't see your creeping rockspray or jacaranda on this list, just hit me up and I'd be happy to walk you through the best way to keep 'em healthy and happy!

Love ya,



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