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Do Your Shrubs Need a Hard Pruning?

Ted Lare-Pruning Flowering Shrubs -pruning flowering shrub

A little trim here and there is beneficial for your shrubs, especially if they have any damaged or diseased branches. That’s called renewal pruning. Hard pruning is different—it’s a significant cutback on your shrubs which will reshape them dramatically. Hard pruning is beneficial for overgrown shrubs with leggy branches and few blooms.  

Hard pruning your shrubs may feel a bit nerve-wracking. After all, you’re chopping off a huge portion of the plant! However, if you know how and when to do it properly, you can avoid harming your plants and instead make room for healthier, stronger growth going forward. Here’s how to do it! 


When to Hard-Prune Flowering Shrubs

Flowering shrubs fall into two categories: those that bloom on old wood and those that bloom on new wood. Shrubs that bloom on old wood, like lilacs, develop their flower buds in late winter and bloom in spring. For renewal pruning, you’ll want to trim them in the summer after their blooms have faded. If you do a light renewal prune in spring, you’ll cut off all their flower buds, and all you’ll get is leaves. However, if you’re doing a major hard pruning, you should do this in late winter or early spring—March, ideally. To prevent a bloomless spring, you can cut back half of the branches and leave the other half for the following year. 

Ted Lare-Pruning Flowering Shrubs -purple butterfly bush

Shrubs that bloom on new wood, like Butterfly Bush, develop their buds in the spring, then bloom through the summer. Pruning these shrubs in late winter or very early spring will yield good results. We don’t recommend pruning shrubs in the fall, as this can stimulate a new flush of growth when your plant should be preparing for its dormancy. If you have evergreen shrubs in your landscape, prune them in the early spring before new growth emerges. 

Shrubs that Benefit from Hard Pruning

You should hard prune only once about every five years or so. Not all shrubs can handle hard pruning and prefer to have their branches cut back gradually with each passing year. Some shrubs that will benefit from hard pruning include:

  • Lilacs
  • Hydrangeas
  • Dogwood
  • Spirea
  • Forsythia
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Weigela
  • Honeysuckle
  • Potentilla
Ted Lare-Pruning Flowering Shrubs -viburnum blooming

Some shrubs, like Viburnum and Witch Hazel, do not like hard pruning and benefit from gradual rejuvenation pruning instead. If you’re unsure if your particular landscape shrubs will benefit from hard pruning or gradual pruning, feel free to call us at Ted Lare Garden Center, and one of our experts will be happy to provide some pointers!

How to Trim Overgrown Bushes

When you’re hard pruning shrubs, you’ll want to cut them down to 6–12 inches above the ground; this may seem extreme, but the regrowth will be lush, fast-growing, and healthy! For branches under 1¾ inches wide, use a heavy, long-handled set of pruners. Be sure to sterilize the blades with isopropyl alcohol before getting to work! Use a pruning saw on very thick branches. Wear protective gloves and eyewear to prevent injury.  

Ted Lare-Pruning Flowering Shrubs -cleaning up shrub in garden by pruning

Where Do You Cut When Pruning?

Look for outward-facing nodes on the branch. Those are the rings or nubs along the branch where new growth can emerge. Cut at a 45° angle, with the highest point of the cut sitting just above the bud on the node. If your cut branches are free of disease, you can toss them in the compost bin. If they show signs of disease, throw them in the garbage. 


If you need a new set of pruners or a saw for hard pruning shrubs in Iowa, visit Ted Lare Garden Center, and we’ll help you find the right tools for the job. If you’re unable to hard prune your shrubs yourself, we have landscape maintenance services available—call now to explore all your available options!


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