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My Pruning Schedule

I've often found it hard to know what shrubs needed pruning when, and with all the new shrubs I have planted or plan to put in this year, this task will get even harder. To help me this year, I've made up a pruning schedule by major time of season. If you are reading this schedule it may benefit you to know that my garden is in Southern Ontario and is in zone 5.

My schedule is based on early spring, spring (after flowering), summer and fall pruning times. To know the best way to prune a shrub it is also helpful to know the natural shape of a shrub. Good pruning should enhance the natural shape rather than work against it. Shrubs can be broadly classified as mounding, caning and tree-like and each should have a different approach to pruning. For more information on pruning based on the growth habit of various shrubs click here.

Early Spring (March - April) before new growth appears

My Spring pruning schedule includes three major activities

  1. trimming evergreens for shape (boxwoods, cedars and yews);
  2. cutting to the ground fast growers (a pruning technique known as coppicing); and
  3. thinning and shaping some flowering shrubs.

Shaping Evergreens

Remove damaged or dead foliage and branches, trim for shape. Make sure lower branches are wider than top. Evergreens to prune before spring growth starts include:


As noted earlier, some shrubs benefit from severe pruning. Heavy pruning stimulates rapid growth which will encourage better foliage colour and larger flowers. It also helps keep plants to a manageable size with a neater habit. The stems can be cut back to within 20cm (8 inches) of the ground. Plants in my garden that I prune to the ground include:

Renewal pruning, shaping and thinning

The remainder of my early spring pruning is focused on shaping and thinning. I try to prune about 1/4 to 1/3 of these plants every spring in the hope I can avoid heavier renewal pruning down the road. My process involves three main steps:

  1. Remove any dead or damaged branches along with any branches that look bad (for example are growing down instead of up - except in the case of weeping plants of course, are crossing other branches etc.).
  2. Remove up to 1/3 of old branches at the base of the plant or the base of another branch.
  3. Trim the tallest of the remaining branches about 1/5 of the height to encourage branching and to achieve an overall shape.

AZALEA - remove any damaged or dead branches. Azaleas set bud just after flowering so many azalea web sites recommend pruning for renewal take place before new growth so there is enough time to set buds for next year. After growth starts, trim new shoots to encourage branching. Azaleas are slow growing so little pruning is necessary unless the shrub has become overgrown. In my garden I mostly focus on pruning out damage wood and a little bit of shape pruning immediately after they flower.

ROSES (non-climbing) - after frosts, remove any damaged or dead branches. Shorten remaining branches to 4-5 buds.

CLETHRA ALNIFOLIA - remove any damaged or dead branches and prune for shape where I have not done this in the fall.

CORNUS ALBA 'ELEGANTISSIMA' AND 'IVORY HALO' and some SERICEA- because of the location of these dogwoods in a garden close to the house, I do not prune these to the ground for aesthetic reasons. I remove about 1/3 of old branches to the ground every year (thinning), trim the remainder about 1 foot for shape and branching. Cornus Alba bloom on old wood however the flowers are insignificant compared to the foliage so I prune before new growth begins.

HIBISCUS SYRIACUS (Rose of Sharon) - similar to Clethra, remove any damaged or dead branches and prune for shape if I have not done so the fall before.

MORUS ALBA 'PENDULA' (Weeping Mulberry) - prune severely back to main leaders. This plant will need to be pruned again in summer. See Summer pruning section.

PRUNUS CISTENA (Purpleleaf Sandcherry) - As with my Ivory Halo dogwoods, I do not prune many of my Sandcherries to the ground but I do like to keep the foliage bright and stems on the small side. I also find this helps with the tendency of a Sandcherry to split at crotches. I start by cutting up to 1/3 of the larger branches to the ground, cutting back the remainder about 12 inches for shape and branching. Prunus Cistena flower on old wood so I may lose some flowers this way but find it easier to prune before the plant leafs out. I had to spend 3 years rejuvinating a few old Sancherries by cutting out some very large branches using this method and they have come back very nicely.

SAMBUCUS 'SUTHERLANDS GOLD' - grown mostly for foliage although mine was only planted late last year. I will likely just prune the tips to encourage new growth this year then follow up with usual renewal pruning depending upon how vigorous the growth is this year.

SPIRAEA (summer blooming varieties bumalda and japonica) - prune out oldest and most twisted branches to ground to maximum of about 1/3. I have on occasion pruned these to within 20cm (8 inches) of the ground if they were overgrown and they came back by summer.

VIBURNUM TRILOBUM - Remove oldest canes and crossing branches before new growth emerges. Thin oldest canes to the base.

WEIGELA FLORIDA - remove any dead or damaged branches. Thin out up to 1/3 of oldest / biggest branches as well as any ugly branches. Like Prunus cistena, I find it easier to prune before the new growth starts. Weigela are said to flower on old growth but in fact will flower on new stems that branch off from old growth so by stimulating vigorous growth I actually extend the bloom time.

Late Spring Pruning
Summer and Fall Pruning
Pruning Based On Natural Shape
More How To Garden Topics
Plant Profiles