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How to Prune Flowering Plants

By S.F. Heron ; Updated September 21, 2017
Healthy petunias

Pruning involves trimming a plant to remove dead branches, stems or leaves. Gardeners should consider pruning as regular maintenance to keep a plant healthy. Too often a plant is pruned after it has overgrown its available growing space. Here are some pruning tips for flowering plants:

Examine each plant for areas of dead leaves, branches, bald spots and gaps in the foliage. These indicators will help lead to the areas of the plant that require pruning.

Evaluate the natural shape of the plant to determine where pruning is required. For example, round-shaped flowering plants should be pruned to retain their shape while still removing dead branches and leaves. Tall, thin plants require pruning to grow into that shape. Pruning after a blooming cycle allows the removal of dead flowers and stalks, and focuses the energy on healthy leaf growth.

Decide the type of pruning the flowering plant requires. Pinching back involves removal of new growth in small amounts to keep the plant's shape. Heading or cutting back requires removal of branches or stems to control the density and direction of growth. Thinning or renewal pruning involves the removal of whole branches at the connection point between the branch and main stem.

Determine if it's the best time of year for pruning. Cutting back a flowering plant at any time of the year won't harm the plant as long as the pruning isn't excessive. A major pruning during the hottest months of the year can cause permanent damage. Prune flowering shrubs soon after the plant finishes blooming. Annuals should be continually pruned to remove dead buds and stalks. Clip back perennial flowering plants as soon as a flower finishes blooming.

Prune by grasping the branch of the plant and holding the pruning shears in the other hand. Clip the stem at a 45- to 60-degree angle to encourage quick healing of the plant. Any open wound on a plant can invite pests or disease. For this reason, regular pruning to avoid more drastic denuding of the plant offers every plant the best opportunity to thrive.

Make clean cuts on the stem or branch. Sharp shears allow for the quickest cut that damages the plant the least. Avoid removing large branches and portions of the plant until you feel comfortable with the plant shape. You can always go back in a few weeks for additional removal.


Things You Will Need

  • Pruning clippers


  • Shearing with hedge clippers should be reserved for hedges. Flowering plants don't require this type of heavy pruning as it often distorts the plant's natural shape. Shearing can cause growth on the exterior portions of the plant while stunting growth in the interior near the main plant stem.