How to Prune Plants & Shrubs


Growing healthy shrubs begins with buying a healthy plant from a reputable nursery---look for bushy growth, roots that aren't rootbound or growing in on themselves and good color. Early spring or fall are good times to plant potted or balled shrubs, as the naturally cool weather and ample rainfall will give the shrub a good start. Plant bare-root shrubs when they are available in late winter. Proper pruning maintains a healthy plant. If your shrub blooms in the summer or fall, prune in the spring. If it blooms before June, prune right after it blooms.


Step 1

Dig a hole twice as wide and 1 ½ times as deep as the root ball or plant container.

Step 2

Prepare the soil that will go into the hole carefully. Add amendments such as pumice or vermiculite to help clay soil drain faster and to help sandy soil maintain water. Add organic matter such as peat moss or leaf mold to provide nutrients.

Step 3

Fill the planting hole with water and let it drain away completely. This step ensures that the plant will not dry out as it settles in.

Step 4

Loosen the roots of shrubs bought in containers by scraping at the bottom and sides with a stick or knife. If you have a burlap balled shrub, loosen the twine and burlap at the top of the ball; you do not need to take off the cover.

Step 5

Place enough soil in the hole to keep the base of the shrub slightly higher than the surrounding soil and place the shrub in the hole. This is the time to turn the plant around to all sides so you can decide which side you want facing out.

Step 6

Form the soil into a mound at the bottom of the hole for planting bare-root shrubs. Arrange the roots around and over the sides of the mound.

Step 7

Fill the hole halfway with prepared soil. Press it down with your hands, and make any adjustments to height.

Step 8

Fill the hole with the rest of the soil and form a basin around the plant.

Step 9

Water thoroughly to eliminate air pockets.


Step 1

Cut the longest and oldest stem all the way back to the bottom to allow sunlight and air to get to the interior of the shrub. This method allows the shrub to retain its natural shape rather than having new growth occur in the middle of a stem.

Step 2

Cut the next oldest and thickest stem. Continue this method until the remaining stems result in the size of the shrub you wish to retain.

Step 3

Cut any stems that have been incorrectly pruned in the past and have an irregular shape or a profusion of smaller stems growing in odd places.

Tips and Warnings

  • Pruning by cutting all branches back to the same length results in an unnatural gumdrop shape that should be avoided.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Hose or watering can
  • Soil amendments
  • Stick or knife
  • Sharp clippers
  • Sharp pruners


  • "Sunset Western Garden Book"; editors of Sunset Magazine and Sunset Books; 1977
  • "Mrs. Greenthumbs"; Cassandra Danz; 1993
Keywords: planting shrubs, pruning shrubs, shrub care

About this Author

A freelance writer with an extensive career in education, Susan Lundman taught writing and communication at the Military Academy at West Point, at military bases overseas and at community colleges in the United States. Working in a non-profit agency for 20 years, she wrote grant requests, promotional material, and operating guides. Lundman's expertise includes backpacking, dance, gardening and healthy living.