Pruning: Why, How, When

Is your yard looking a bit unruly after all the spring rain and storms? Grab a pair of sharp pruning shears and clean things up a bit.

My favorite thing to prune is my arborvitaes and evergreens because it reminds me of years gone by. When I was a young teenager, my first job was shearing pines. Long, hot days shaping these beauties into what would be cut Christmas trees come Fall. Good memories!

WHY PRUNE? red admiral on blue spruce | paula bonelli |

Pruning is a dwarfing process that invigorates growth for the remaining part. Prune to keep growth dense, keep plants small and to modify shape.


  • Use sharp, clean tools
  • Make smooth cuts
  • Always cut back to a growing point — a bud or branch; don’t leave long stubs
  • Paint or spray wounds larger than 1″ with wound dressing
  • Remove deadwood and suckers ANY time they appear;  no need to wait until a certain time of year
  • Repair storm damage as soon as possible

WHEN TO PRUNE Common Backyard Shrubs

By late-spring, early summer these shrubs may need pruning:

Barberry – remove old shoots and control shape

Forsythia – thin out older, woody branches to ground level

Honeysuckle (shrub) – thin out older, woody branches to ground level

Lilac – remove flower heads, suckers and 1/3 of the oldest wood

Mockorange – thin old canes

Mountainlaurel – heavy pruning to control shape

Pruning is a creative art; a way to beautify your yard and outdoor space. Have fun!

Follow these rules from Birds and Blooms when trimming trees, shrubs and vines.

Source: A Better Homes and Garden New Garden Book circa 1961 that my mother passed down to me.

  1. Vicki says

    I have a redtwig dogwood that was transplanted earlier this year and hasn’t recovered well. It’s close to 5 feet tall and has wonderful new growth at the bottom, but the branches are looking pretty scraggly. Can I prune it from it’s current height all the way down to about 12 inches without shocking it too badly?

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