How to Prune Shrubs in the Fall


Many types of shrubs benefit from a yearly pruning in the fall. You can enhance your plant's general health by cutting off branches that are dead, damaged or diseased. You can also help your shrub to maintain a pleasing shape by pruning it in the fall. Safety and security are other reasons to develop good pruning habits: if a plant obscures an entrance to your house, it provides cover for prowlers. When you prune flowering shrubs properly, they will respond in spring and summer with an improved display of blooms.

Step 1

Pinch off the ends of shoots before they become woody. This practice helps to encourage the shrub to become bushy and reduces your work, because it means you needn't do more extensive pruning later. You can pinch off shoots at any time of year.

Step 2

Head back by cutting off the ends of woody branches to a bud or another branch. This practice forces the growth of shoots below the cut, resulting in a denser shrub.

Step 3

Thin your shrub by selectively cutting off branches---when you thin a shrub, you do not affect its overall appearance. Cut branches back to the main stem and select the shrub's oldest and tallest stems before you thin any other growth. This practice works best in combination with some heading back in order to encourage the shrub to remain compact and not straggly.

Step 4

Prune to renew your shrub by cutting your shrub's oldest branches all the way to the ground. Leave younger, more robust branches, but cut off any stems smaller than a pencil's diameter. Some shrubs benefit from severe renewal pruning every year---with this method, you cut all of the shrub's branches down to a lower height.

Step 5

Shear with hedge clippers to cut the ends off most of the shrub's branches. When you shear, this method is best suited to shrubs you want formed into hedges.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid pruning shrubs in late summer---for many types of shrubs, wait until fall because they can send out new growth if you prune too early. This can result in the new, tender growth becoming frost damaged. Avoid cutting off forming flower buds.

Things You'll Need

  • Clippers
  • Saw (if needed)
  • Hedge clippers
  • Bleach
  • Water
  • Bucket


  • North Carolina State University: Pruning Shrubs
  • Savvy Gardener: Pruning Shrubs
  • University of Arizona: Pruning: Pruning Shrubs
Keywords: shrub care, pruning trimming, thinning heading back

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.