How to Properly Prune Shrubs


Pruning, a gardening practice that changes the plant's form and growth, is essential in keeping a shrub healthy. Think of pruning as the plant's yearly check-up or as preventive maintenance for the shrub. Prevent future problems by beginning the process during the early stages of the shrub's life. Always use sharp and clean pruning shears to prevent ragged cuts and the possibility of spreading diseases. Shrubs prefer their natural shape so try to avoid cosmetically cutting the plant into shapes. By keeping your shrub properly trimmed, you will extend the life of the plant.

Step 1

Prune shrubs in the late winter to early spring before new growth starts to form. During the dormancy period, pruning is made simpler without the leaves obscuring the plant and branch structure.

Step 2

Use pruning shears to prune all old and tall branches and stems. This will promote strong lateral branch development. Pruning shears can cut up to ¾ inches in diameter, which is ideal for shrubs.

Step 3

Prune back overgrown shrubs to the first pair of buds facing the outside of the shrub. Cut each branch at the point of origin from the "parent" or main stem. This will open up the shrub and allow more sunlight to penetrate the plant.

Step 4

Cut back broken and criss-crossed branches, which can affect the development of the shrub and overall shape. Remove dead branches that have become insect- and disease-infested. Remove these branches from the garden site to eliminate the possibility of infecting your garden.

Step 5

Sparingly cut back young shrubs; don't prune the main stem leader. Prune to keep the shape of the young shrub. As the plant grows, begin removing the lowest branches and ones clustered around the trunk.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never prune your shrub near electrical lines. Always contact your local utility company to assist.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears


  • North Carolina State University
  • University of Arizona Cooperative Extension
Keywords: pruning shrubs, winter pruning, cutting shrubs

About this Author

Callie Barber is a writer and photographer in North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Forbes and Automotive News magazine. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.