How to Prune Skunkbush Sumac


Skunkbush sumac is a shrub native to dry, rocky areas of the Western U.S. It's an ideal xeriscape plant that bears red berries in spring, dark green foliage in summer and glowing red-orange leaves in fall. Wild skunkbush sumac has a naturally compact habit, so this plant will need very little pruning if you grow it in a dry area with only modest irrigation. In wetter locations, you might want to prune to control height and retain a pleasing shape. If irrigated, skunkbush sumac grows into a dense hedge that will take hard pruning.

Step 1

Shear the outer few inches of woody branch tips in late spring or early summer to stimulate bushy growth, shape the plant and keep it at the desired height. Depending on growing conditions and cultivar, these plants will grow 2 to 12 feet high, so you might want to prune lightly, or not at all for the first few seasons after planting.

Step 2

Prune away any dead wood in spring, just as the plant begins to grow, to rejuvenate older plants and allow new growth to fill in any gaps.

Step 3

Remove root suckers if you do not want skunkbush sumac to spread. Many gardeners leave these suckers because they appreciate the way this plant slowly spreads to fill in a space.

Step 4

Thin large, woody plants by pruning them down to just a few main trunks in summer to create the look of a small specimen tree. Choose to keep branches which are growing at wider angles, because these will be the most structurally stable.

Things You'll Need

  • Work gloves
  • Sharp pruning shears


  • Rhus trilobata: Worthy Plant Seeks Worthy Name; Nancy Rose; 1999
  • Plants for Natural Gardens; Judith Phillips; 1995
Keywords: Pruning Skunkbush Sumac, Pruning Three Leafed Sumac, Pruning Lemonade Berry

About this Author

Malia Marin is a landscape designer and freelance writer, specializing in sustainable design, native landscapes and environmental education. She holds a Masters in landscape architecture, and her professional experience includes designing parks, trails and residential landscapes. Marin has written numerous articles, over the past ten years, about landscape design for local newspapers.