Flowering Shrubs | How to Prune

Do You Need to Prune Flowering Shrubs?
Look at your plant. Is it happy and blooming well? Does it have good air circulation? Is it a nice shape and size for you? If you are answering yes to these questions you probably don’t need to prune your blooming bush at all! If you are shaking your head no, consider pruning your shrub. Pruning isn’t always the answer, but it can certainly help to get an out of control or old leggy plant back in shape and it even may improve growth and blooms.
What to Prune on Flowering Shrubs

Prune off any sick, dead, broken, or crossed branches. Remove suckers and water sprouts. Suckers form at the base of the plant and generally come from the roots while water sprouts can form on a branch or even a trunk. Both suckers and water sprouts grow straight up and often grow quickly and steal nutrients from the rest of the plant.

In general, stick to the rule of ⅓. Prune ⅓ of the oldest branches back to the ground or the trunk and trim ⅓ of the younger branches back ⅓ of their length, leaving ⅔ of the branch or cane remaining. While some plants tolerate heavy pruning, not all do. If you aren’t sure how your flowering shrub does with pruning, avoid trimming more than ⅓ at a time. Be sure to use clean, professional pruners for best results.

How to Prune Flowering Shrubs

Deadheading is the process of removing spent blooms. It isn’t necessary, but it can encourage more blooms and reblooming. Trim the stem back to above the first set of leaves below the dead bloom.
Heading Cuts vs Thinning Cuts
Heading cuts remove part of a branch back to a bud. When making heading cuts take note of the direction of the uppermost bud. Whichever way this bud is pointing is the way the new growth will grow. Heading cuts control height and help maintain a flowering shrub’s natural habit.
Thinning cuts remove an entire branch back to the trunk or branch it originates from. The purpose of thinning cuts are to open up the plant for better air circulation and light penetration.
Renewal/Renovation Pruning
Most spring flowering shrubs will do best with the renewal method of pruning. Prune out ⅓ of the largest/oldest stems to the ground. For spring bloomers prune once blooming has ceased. For all other flowering shrubs perform this type of pruning during the dormant season. Renewal is an excellent type of pruning for flowering shrubs. It results in a healthier, more vigorous plant and better blooms.
Rejuvenation Pruning
Rejuvenation pruning is easy and a heavy duty type of pruning to invigorate an older or fast growing type of plant. Simply cut you flowering plant back to about 6 inches. No need to worry about the type of cuts; you are just removing most of the bush to allow your plant to start over. This type of pruning is done in late winter or early spring when your plant is still dormant. Rejuvenation pruning is generally only needed every 3 to 5 years, but some plants like Smooth Hydrangeas perform best with this type of pruning every year. Rejuvenation pruning is recommended for Abelia, Barberry, Buddleia (Butterfly bush), Flowering Quince, Forsythia, Ligustrum, Spirea, and Weigela. For Barberry, Flowering Quince, Forsythia, and Weigela you will lose many of the blooms that first spring. So stick to once every 5 years or just when your plant is getting overgrown.

Pro Tip:

Shearing is certainly an easy method of pruning and shaping, but it can result in an ugly, woody flowering shrub with lots of dead branches and few blooms. There is little new growth from the base of the plant and minimal light penetration which over time leaves your blooming bush sad and disease and pest prone. It is not a good option when pruning flowering shrubs.

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