10 Plants You Should Never Prune in Fall

November 11, 2012 | By | Comments (42)
Pruning maniac

There’s nothing more dangerous to a poor shrub or tree than a bored husband with pruners in hand. Photo by Steve Bender.

We’re nearing the holidays and that means your doofus husband will be looking to work off excess turkey-and-stuffing pounds by hacking back some innocent tree or shrub. Which ones are OK to hack? More importantly, for which ones should you threaten his most valued appendage if he so much as touches them? Grumpy has the answers.

Bloom Time Is the Key
Many of the commonly butchered shrubs and trees bloom in spring. This means that they’ve already formed their flower buds. So if Doofus goes nuts with the loppers and wails away on a spring-bloomer this weekend, he’ll cut off the flower buds and you won’t get any spring blooms. Therefore, DO NOT LET HIM CHOP ON THE FOLLOWING:

  1. Azalea
  2. Flowering cherry, peach, plum, pear, crabapple
  3. Forsythia
  4. Lilac
  5. Loropetalum
  6. Oakleaf hydrangea
  7. Rhododendron
  8. Saucer or star magnolia
  9. Spirea
  10. Viburnum

Plants that are OK to prune now are those that make their flower buds on new growth next year. They include:

  1. Angel’s trumpet
  2. ‘Annabelle’, ‘Limelight’, and PG hydrangea
  3. Butterfly bush
  4. Cape plumbago
  5. Chaste tree
  6. Crepe myrtle*
  7. Gardenia
  8. Goldenrain tree
  9. Hibiscus
  10. ‘Knockout’ and most shrub roses
  11. Pomegranate

* Extreme pruning of crepe myrtle called “crepe murder” will not and cannot be tolerated by Grumpy. To see how to correctly prune this iconic plant, read “Crepe Myrtle Pruning Step-By-Step.”


  1. Steve Bender

    You can fertilize anything that’s actively growing, but most plants won’t need it until spring. Use a general-purpose, slow-release fertilizer such as Dynamite that has relatively little phosphorus (the middle number) because Florida soils have plenty. Here’s a link: http://www.dynamiteplantfood.com/the-products-rev/

    November 25, 2016 at 8:37 am
  2. Steve Bender

    If your plants are deciduous and have dropped their leaves, they don’t need any more water now. Evergreens, however, will need watering to keep them from turning brown. Cutting them back may reduce their need for water, but they will still need some this winter.

    November 25, 2016 at 8:26 am
  3. Steve Bender

    You can prune them back now as far as you want.

    November 25, 2016 at 8:22 am
  4. Susan Dunn

    Wondering when to fertilize and what to use as fertilizer in Ocala, Fl. Thanks!

    November 19, 2016 at 11:26 am
  5. Christene C

    My Knockout Roses are still going strong…should I trim them and how much?

    November 19, 2016 at 9:46 am
  6. Deborah

    What should we do about the azaleas with this horrible drought.? My large mature bushes are looking horrible and turning very brown. I’m afraid they will die because we have been on a water ban for so long. Before seeing this article I had planned to cut them way back to see if they could survive. Any other suggestions? Thank you

    November 19, 2016 at 8:36 am
  7. Steve Bender

    Your azaleas will survive, but they probably won’t bloom much next spring.

    The flowers of redtwig dogwoods aren’t much to look at, so I’d prune them in winter or spring. This encourages the growth of new, bright-red stems.

    October 30, 2016 at 12:30 pm
  8. Kristen

    My hubster got chop happy yesterday and scalped my azaleas. I hope between the stress of the drought and the stress of the scalping that I haven’t lost my beautiful shrubs forever.

    October 25, 2016 at 11:20 am
  9. Gale

    I’ll leave my lilac bushes alone until next spring, but what about my red-twig dogwoods?

    October 22, 2016 at 5:00 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Prune camellias after they finish blooming.

    We’ve had the same dry weather here. There’s hope, as long as it actually rains sometime this winter. Otherwise, we’re in big trouble.

    You can go ahead and trim back the columbine foliage.

    October 21, 2016 at 8:33 am
  11. Dorothy

    What about camellia. When is the best time to prune?

    October 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm
  12. Donna Pierce

    With the ongoing drought in Georgia this summer and fall, is there any hope for my trees and shrubs for next spring???

    October 18, 2016 at 2:41 pm
  13. Joyce L Jones

    should columbine be pruned in the fall?

    October 18, 2016 at 1:00 pm
  14. Grumpy Gardener


    If you want to see the blooms this spring, prune it after it blooms. If you don’t care, go ahead and prune now. You can cut it back as much as you want.

    March 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm
  15. Joan Stanley

    My azalea has become too thin & leggy. It’s starting to bud very well but really needs pruning. When should I prune it and how severe? (I live in central Texas, no winter/freezes this year at all.)

    March 6, 2016 at 9:08 pm
  16. Steve Bender


    Peach trees are generally pruned in winter to open them up and prevent overbearing that results in inferior fruit. Prune out crowded and crossing branches, waterspouts (shoots that grow straight up without branching), suckers from the base, and branches that grow inwards towards the center of the tree, rather than outwards.

    January 28, 2015 at 4:20 pm
  17. Gina

    What about peach trees, when do you prune them?

    January 25, 2015 at 7:52 pm
  18. Dawn

    Thank you!

    September 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm
  19. Steve Bender


    Prune back lavender by about one-third immediately after it finishes blooming.

    September 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm
  20. Dawn

    What about lavender, should that be pruned in the spring?

    September 10, 2014 at 1:41 pm
  21. Thou Shalt Not (Crape) Murder | Georgia Garden Girl

    […] http://www.caes.uga.edu/publications/pubDetail.cfm?pk_id=6098#Time.  Another helpful resource: the Grumpy Gardener’s list of 10 Plants You Should Never Prune in Fall (Azalea; Flowering cherry, peach, plum, pear, crabapple; Forsythia; Lilac; Loropetalum; Oakleaf […]

    February 22, 2013 at 7:11 pm
  22. Steve Bender


    Your are correct, sir.

    December 20, 2012 at 10:27 am
  23. Scott Bigelow

    Great blog grumps! I just learned I have a little more work to do. When my neighbor just trimmed his Camellias in late summer, I wanted to cry. That’s what they made the Internet for, and, of course, your blog.

    December 17, 2012 at 11:58 am
  24. Steve Bender

    Any limbs that didn’t leaf out this year are dead. You might as well prune them back to the trunk. Try to stop him from cutting it so severely this year.

    November 27, 2012 at 9:21 am
  25. Carol

    Thank you. I’ll give it a try.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:04 pm
  26. Diane Carpenter

    My husband pruned our crepe myrtle last fall.
    The limbs he pruned didn’t get any new growth/flowers this year. Should those limbs be
    completely cut back to the trunk or will they possibly get new growth in the future?

    November 24, 2012 at 10:46 pm
  27. Steve Bender

    It sounds like you may have borers in the tree. The fact the sap is white may indicate that bacteria is feeding on it. To kill the borers, you’ll have to use a systemic insecticide, such as Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Insect Control, according to label directions. You can get this at most home and garden centers.

    November 24, 2012 at 8:37 am
  28. Carol

    The tree is about 25 feet tall and the sap is running down each of about five large trunks. The sap is white in color.

    November 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm
  29. Steve Bender


    I have never seen this before. Where is the sap coming from? A hole in the trunk?

    November 21, 2012 at 8:29 am
  30. Carol

    My crepe myrtle is oozing white sap which has never happened before in 12 years. What is the cause? Also my cat keeps licking this stuff!

    November 20, 2012 at 9:31 pm
  31. Steve Bender

    Amy & Vickie.
    You were probably looking at a new dark-foliage one called ‘Black Diamond.’ Expect to see more of these.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:38 am
  32. Amy

    Vickie, I did see the black myrtle a couple of weeks ago here in South Louisiana. It was very interesting but I was in a hurry and didn’t have time to really check it out.

    November 13, 2012 at 8:04 pm
  33. Carolyn from Cowlick Cottage Farm

    Too late.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm
  34. Brenda Caldwell

    Thank you for this list! I myself can use it, not just my husband, lol.

    November 11, 2012 at 3:38 pm
  35. Libby

    I see knockout roses on the list of those okay to prune now. In Zone 8B, how much can I prune them now – a light or heavy pruning? Folks around here tell me to prune them heavily in February, by Valentine’s Day…I’m new to this zone, so help is appreciated, for sure!

    November 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm
  36. vicki

    Speaking of crepe myrtles has anyone out there gotten a new myrtle that has black leaves?
    My sister said they are in the nurseries in the Dallas area..I already have 30 of different varieties and just wondering if this is special enough to consider

    November 11, 2012 at 11:31 am
  37. Suzi McCoy

    Hey, Grump, you were reading my mind. I’m taking my clippers and heading outdoors today in our 70 degree weather! It feels like SC!

    November 11, 2012 at 11:24 am
  38. Heather-Lin Brannon

    Awesome article!!!

    I would add to the NO list the following:
    flowering quince, flowering dogwood (but the shrubby red twig dogwoods are ok), 99% of the spring bloomers

    A good rule of thumb is any blooming plants that you can actually SEE the buds on right now should give you pause.

    November 11, 2012 at 10:59 am
  39. Arlena G. Schott

    Very Nice post…as for Zone 4-5 Marie prune away….in our area Hydrangeas as well as Spirea and Viburnum can take a harsh pruning in the Fall and still give you lots of Blossom in their season. Remember NO Chainsaw Grumpy Gardener.
    BUT if you forgot to give them a Summer Trim and they are sneaking into the windows of your home and you lay awake at night fearing that your shrubs are taking up arms against you then by all means TRIM….I am the Rebel Gardener and trim when I have time…But sacrifice you must if you do so….Don’t Forget to Garden Wise
    Arlena Schott

    November 11, 2012 at 10:41 am
  40. Rita

    From year to year I always forget which shrubs get pruned during which season. This is very helpful. Going to save this article. Thanks for the info.

    November 11, 2012 at 9:39 am
  41. Marie

    I forgot to ask. I pruned my butte fly bush last year, but it still got way too big and out of control. How far back can I prune it and the Lime light?

    November 11, 2012 at 9:25 am
  42. Marie

    Does this list to prune include the northern states such as NJ?

    November 11, 2012 at 9:23 am

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