How to Prune a Shrub Tree


Certain shrubs such as the lilac and crape myrtle look attractive when pruned to tree-like shapes. These shrubs form thick trunks that resemble the multiple trunks and large branches of a tree. Learning how to prune a shrub tree involves good practices and a planned approach to create an enviable landscape plant.

Step 1

Determine the best time to prune the shrub tree to produce new growth without impeding the current season's blooms. Consult with the local nursery to determine the best time to prune the shrub.

Step 2

Select three to five strong limbs to form the basic shape of the tree shrub. Make careful choices since these main trunks will form the basis for future shaping of the tree. Look to create balance in the shrub for all viewing angles.

Step 3

Cut all other branches at ground level, using a pruning saw.

Step 4

Clip off smaller branches one-third of the way up the shrub. Make cuts flush with adjoining larger branches. The basic premise is to strip the main trunks of the tree shrub of foliage. Prune off all suckers around the base of the shrub.

Step 5

Thin the shrub canopy by cutting branches that criss-cross or grow inward toward the center of the shrub. Place cuts flush with the nearest large branch. Remove branches evenly throughout the shrub to retain uniform thickness and branch balance from every angle.

Step 6

Finish the pruning by heading back overgrown branches. Clip long shrub branches to conform to the tree canopy by placing cuts above a new bud. New buds looks like little green knobs on the shrub limb. Cut placement allows new growth to head outward from the bud.

Step 7

Maintain the shrub tree by monitoring new growth around the lower one-third of the plant. Prune off suckers and small limbs regularly to retain shape. Perform pruning every spring to maintain the tree-like appearance of the plant.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning loppers
  • Pruning saw


  • Virginia Cooperative Extension: A Guide to Successful Pruning: Pruning Shrubs
  • San Diego State University Cooperative Extension Service: Pruning Deciduous Shrubs
Keywords: pruning shrubs, tree-like shrubs, pruning crape myrtle

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various sites, including Helium, eHow and Xomba. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.