What Should I Prune Now?

February 15, 2009 | By | Comments (20)

Most of you are scared to death of pruning and rightly so. That’s because you do it wrong. Have no fear, the Grump in his great beneficence will reveal the path to pruning enlightenment. Rose

When you prune is very important, especially when dealing with flowering trees and shrubs. Prune them at the wrong time and you’ll cut off the flower buds and they won’t bloom. So before you cut anything, know whether it blooms and when. Prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs immediately after they finish blooming. Prune summer- and fall-flowering trees and shrubs in late winter, before they begin the current season’s growth. If in doubt, you can never go wrong by pruning a flowering plant right after its final blooms fade.

What about trees and shrubs that don’t bloom? When should you prune those? With a few exceptions (noted below), now is a good time. I especially like pruning deciduous trees now, because with the leaves off, you can easily see what needs to be removed.

 

 

 

Plants to Prune Now

1. Crepe myrtle

2. Most roses

3. Chaste tree (Vitex)

4. Peegee hydrangea

5. Oleander

6. Rose-of-Sharon (Althea)

7. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)

8.  Goldenrain tree

9. Pomegranate

10. Abelia

11. Hardy lantana

12. Cape plumbago

13. Most shade trees (see exceptions below)

14. Most fruit trees (thinning branches now removes some flower buds and improves the quality of the fruit)

15. Beautyberry

 

Prune These After They Bloom

1. Azaleas

2. Rhododendrons

3. Lilac

4. Forsythia, weigela, pearl bush, spirea, deutzia, mockorange, kerria

5. Climbing roses

6. Gardenia

7. Camellia

8. Dogwood

9. Oakleaf hydrangea

10. French Hydrangea

11. Flowering cherry, peach, plum, pear, crabapple, almond, redbud

Prune These Trees in Summer

Certain trees bleed sap profusely if pruned in late winter and early spring, so prune them in summer. They include:

  • Maples
  • Birches
  • Yellowwood

 

I Give and I Give and I Give

Can’t find guidance on when to prune a plant not mentioned here? Ask me. I’m so generous with my knowledge.

COMMENTS

  1. Lisa McEntire

    Dear Grumpy,
    Your article on “What to Prune Now” was helpful. I have some knock out rose bushes in terrible need of pruning. So, I understand now is the time, but I don’t know how to do it. How aggressive? They are about 3-4 ft tall. Where do I make the cuts? Help!

    February 15, 2009 at 2:26 pm
  2. Grumpy Gardener

    Yes, now is a good time to prune your Knockouts. But do yourself a big favor. They are big-time thorny. So put on some leather gloves before starting or you may need a transfusion.
    The actual pruning is not that difficult. Begin by removing any dead branches. These will be tan or brown, not green. Next, shorten individual branches by pruning back to a side branch or an outward-facing bud. Open up the center of the shrub by removing branches growing into the center. You can reduce Knockouts to half their current size with no ill consequences.

    February 15, 2009 at 9:56 pm
  3. Lianne

    You had me at “prune.”
    Does Pampas grass ever need to be pruned back? Mine is ever-so-droopy right now.

    February 16, 2009 at 12:49 am
  4. Grumpy Gardener

    Yes, it’s a good idea to cut back pampas grass now, as well as other ornamental grasses. This gets rid of old ragged foliage to make way for the new. You can take hedge trimmers or shears to cut back the clump to within a foot or two of the ground.

    February 16, 2009 at 9:32 am
  5. lynn

    Can I transplant knock out roses now?

    February 16, 2009 at 10:35 am
  6. Grumpy Gardener

    Absolutely. Now is a great time.

    February 16, 2009 at 3:04 pm
  7. Cameron (Defining Your Home Garden)

    My hardy lantana (probably Athen’s Rose) grows to gigantic proportions in the summer. Can I cut it back again a few times during the summer to keep it under control? I tried to dig the things up to relocate last year, but they won the battle and are still in the same space.
    Cameron

    February 16, 2009 at 4:31 pm
  8. Jenne Griffin

    What a fantastic article…thank you!!! When is a good time to prune boxwoods..and how?

    February 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm
  9. Grumpy Gardener

    Hi Cameron,
    Hardy lantana can get huge. I just saw a couple last week that must have been 4 feet high and 6 feet wide. Periodic pruning is the only way to control them. I’d cut them down to 6 inches now and get rid of all the dead growth. Cut them back during the summer to the size you want. FYI, I tried ‘Athens Rose’ in my garden a couple of years ago, but yanked it up because it was just too lanky, unruly, and tall. I like more compact types, like the Landmark Series from Ball, but they aren’t winter hardy in central Alabama.
    Jenne,
    I think the best time to prune boxwoods is right after they put out their first flush of new green growth in the spring. How you do it depends on your objective. I have Japanese boxwoods in my side garden trimmed into formal pyramidal shape. I trim them only once or twice a year, using electric hedge trimmers. If you prefer a more natural, billowing appearance, use hand pruners to shorten individual branches, always cutting back to a leaf, live twig, or a bud. Both American and dwarf English boxwood grow much slower than Japanese, so you should have to prune only once a year.

    February 18, 2009 at 9:13 am
  10. Lisa

    I just bought basil and cilantro plants for my kitchen window. Herbs I often use in cooking. Is it best just to pick the leaves or should I clip at the base? Any tips for keeping them healthy?

    February 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm
  11. Grumpy Gardener

    The first thing you need to do is give them a sunny window and make sure the pots have good drainage. Both plants are annuals, meaning that they like to put on vegetative growth, flower, set seed, and die in a single growing season. Dead herbs aren’t terribly useful, so what you have to do is delay flowering and seeding by harvesting on a regular basis. Use a set of sharp scissors to do this. For cilantro, shorten the top growth by about a third, let the stems regrow (each cut stem produces two new stems), and harvest again. For basil, cut back the stems to 2-3 sets of leaves, let those stems regrow, and cut again. Morning is a good time to cut, as the aromatic oils that give herbs their flavor are most concentrated then.

    February 22, 2009 at 2:43 pm
  12. Dan

    How should I prune Viburnum to become a privicy screen. They are growing straight up now and are not bushy

    March 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm
  13. mietwagen

    Sehr gute Seite. Ich habe es zu den Favoriten.

    March 12, 2009 at 5:50 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener

    Danke.

    March 13, 2009 at 7:31 am
  15. Jessica

    What if I didn’t prune my plants last year (we recently moved into a home that a great gardener left, and we are just trying not to kill what is already there) because I was too scared. Did I kill them? Is it too late?

    March 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm
  16. Amy

    How far back can I prune boxwoods without a) making them really ugly for a long time, or b) killing them? I have boxwood shrubs that are original to my 50 year old house, and they are actually starting to block my windows (and I’m on a conventional foundation). But it seems like they have leaves on only the surface. If I prune them very far back to decrease the overall size, will new leaves grow to make them pretty again?

    March 20, 2009 at 4:59 pm
  17. Melba

    I have Oleanders that have grown to about 8 to 10 ft tall. When and how to prune. I live on South shore of Bon Secour Bay, with lots of north wind still to come.

    January 19, 2012 at 3:28 pm
  18. Grumpy Gardener (His Magnificence)

    If you prune them now, you’ll greatly reduce flowering. The only pruning to do now is removing dead, spindly, or problem growth. Wait to do any general pruning until after they finish blooming. Shorten any lanky branches and remove any old, woody trunks at the ground.

    January 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm
  19. Sandra

    I’d just pruned my weigelia bush. But I think I should have waited? Did I prune at the wrong time or do you think it will be alright?

    March 21, 2013 at 9:32 pm
  20. Steve Bender

    Sandra,
    Hate to say this, but you just cut off all the spring flowers. Weigela blooms on growth made the previous year. The time to prune is right after it finishes blooming.

    March 29, 2013 at 10:33 am