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How to Prune Northern Spicebush

Northern spicebush is a shrub found growing across the eastern United States. Used to make essential oils and fragrant sachets, northern spicebush also provides food for over 20 species of birds. Historically Native Americans used the fruits of the northern spicebush for food and the leaves for tea. Northern spicebush can reach up to 9 feet in height. Its thin leaves reach up to 14 centimeters long, and the flowers appear in clusters of yellow. The shiny red berries are 6 millimeters long and single seeded. The name, spicebush, refers to the spicy fragrance of the stems and leaves when they become bruised.

Prune northern spicebush at the end of fall and after a majority of the leaves and berries have dropped. This process will ensure strong growth the following growing season.

Prune back the northern spicebush with pruning shears, which can make sharp cuts up to ¾ inches in diameter. Thin back the shrub by cutting off frail and broken branches to their point of origin. Thinning produces a more open shrub, emphasizes the branch’s internal structure and strengthens the plant.

Cut off all side branches that are gnarled and crossing each other. Remove pest-infested or diseased stems by cutting off the entire branch. This will evade a full contamination of the shrub.

Prune to one main branch or stem, and cut off any competing twigs on young northern spicebush shrubs. This will free up needed nutrients to the central branch and create a stronger plant. Remove any suckers, or small vigorous shoots sprouting up from the root or stem of the shrub as soon as they become noticeable.


Northern spicebush grows successfully in a wide range of light conditions but prefers a more open canopy. Planting in this type of environment will increase its growth rate.


Remember to wear gardening gloves to prevent cuts when using pruning shears.

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