Pruning for Non-Professionals

As we get into gardening season, more tedious tasks like pruning may be on the mind of wary home gardeners. For many gardeners, pruning can seem like a daunting task best left for the classically-trained professional. But with a bit of knowledge and practice, anyone can understand the basics of pruning.

The Kemper Center for Home Gardening has a few suggested guidelines on different pruning methods for flowering shrubs.

Maintenance Pruning

What is it? Maintenance pruning is removing dead or diseased wood, branches that are detracting from the desired form of the shrub, branches that are impeding a pathway, or unwanted suckers.

Why do it? Most flowering shrubs will benefit from an annual round of maintenance pruning. By making it part of your regular garden routine, you can avoid some of the common problems many homeowners experience with their flowering shrubs like reduced flowering. It can also prevent shrubs from outgrowing their space.

When to do it? A general rule of thumb is that plants that bloom in the spring should be pruned after they bloom. Plants that bloom in the summer or fall should be pruned in the late winter or early spring.


  • Dead or diseased wood and suckers can be removed any time.
  • Before making a cut, observe where the growth bud nearest to the cut is pointing. This is the direction that the new growth from that bud will emanate.

Regenerative Pruning

What is it?  Regenerative pruning is an accelerated type of pruning that involves removing a third or more of a plant’s total structure.

Why do it? Some flowering shrubs grow best when cut back completely to the ground every winter. Others have cane-type stems that grow from a woody base and benefit from having older or weaker canes removed every year.

When to do it? The same rule of thumb applies with regenerative pruning–­­ plants that bloom in the spring should be pruned after they bloom and plants that bloom in the summer or fall should be pruned in the late winter or early spring.


  • Leave between six and 12 inches at the base of the shrub to ensure that there are still plenty of new growing points.


What is it? Shearing is removing the top growth from a shrub with closely-spaced lateral buds. New growth will come from the lateral buds. Only plants with closely-spaced lateral buds should be sheared.

Why do it? Shearing is mostly used to form a hedge or topiary.

When to do it? Timing depends on the shrub. Some may need to be sheared multiple times during the growing season.


  • Sheared shrubs still require some maintenance pruning to allow light to penetrate to the lower branches. This produces full, even growth throughout the shrub.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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