How to Prune Deciduous Shrubs


Deciduous shrubs need to be pruned in order to help them maintain the shape and size that you desire. Additionally, pruning deciduous shrubs can extend their life expectancy because it will help you control disease and infection. You can also use pruning to stimulate your shrubs' growth in areas that you want to target and make fuller or denser.

Step 1

Determine what type of pruning you need to do. Either "head back" your shrubs, which means that you are cutting to encourage the shrub to grow behind the cut, making it fuller and denser in shape, or thin to allow more light into the center of the bush to prevent disease.

Step 2

Identify the right time of year to prune. In most cases, shrubs should be pruned before the growing season, usually during winter when the plant is dormant. However, flowering shrubs can be pruned once their flowers have fallen.

Step 3

Remove dead and diseased branches. Use both the clippers and the loppers to remove smaller and larger branches, respectively, that appear to have a health problem. Cankers, discolored wood and dead or discolored leaves all may indicate a disease or infection. Wipe down the blades after each cut and dispose of the plant debris in a sealed plastic bag to prevent reinfection.

Step 4

Head back your shrubs. Use the pruning shears or clippers to cut between the leaves. You can cut wherever is necessary to hold the shape of the shrub, but generally it should be at least 5 inches back from the end of the branch.

Step 5

Thin the interior of the shrub, if necessary. If you have noticed problems with mold or mildew in your shrub, it may be because the plant does not get enough air circulation or sunlight. Thinning out the interior of the shrub may be necessary. Use the loppers to cut off thick branches so that the main branches of the shrub--not the smaller twigs--are growing about 4 inches apart. This should not interfere with the shape of the shrub, since all of the smaller twigs growing off the remaining branches will fill in the gaps.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Loppers
  • Garbage bags


  • Greenshare Fact Sheets: Pruning Deciduous Shrubs
  • Iowa State University Extension: The Proper Time to Prune
  • South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service: Pruning Deciduous Shrubs
Keywords: pruning deciduous shrubs, deciduous shrub care, how prune shrubs

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Carole VanSickle has over five years experience working with scientists and creative scholars to promote and explain their work. She is based in Atlanta, Ga., and specializes in scientific, medical and technical writing, SEO and educational content.