Pruning Shrubs

Is Pruning Shrubs After They Bloom Really Necessary?

Before you prune a shrub, make sure there is a good reason for doing so. Ill.:

Question: Is it really true I have to prune all my shrubs when they finish blooming?

Doubtful Gardener

Answer: A lot of websites and gardening books do say to prune shrubs after they finish blooming. The problem is, people take that recommendation for a rule when it really isn’t one. It’s just an indication of the right season to carry out pruning if it’s necessary. 

In other words, if you have to prune a shrub, the best time is after it finishes flowering. That way, you won’t remove the flower buds that will turn into the upcoming flowers, which is what would happen if you prune before the shrub flowers.

Pruning Is Optional

But pruning is almost never mandatory. A laidback gardener, at least, would only prune if he or she had a good reason for doing so.

For example, if you have an aging shrub that needs rejuvenation, or one with a few broken or awkwardly placed branches, those would be good reasons for pruning and I heartily recommend it. 

Cartoon of man pruning shrub.
If a shrub needs pruning because it’s too big, move it rather than prune it. Ill.:

And it might seem logical to cut back annually shrubs that are taking up too much space, but I actually think that’s the wrong thing to do. Such a shrub is clearly too big for the spot where it’s planted, so the most logical (and laidback) thing to do would be to remove it and plant a shrub of more appropriate dimensions. Then live and let live!

For some shrubs, deadheading (removing faded flowers) may stimulate better flowering the following year, but the difference is usually quite minimal. After all, you don’t climb on a ladder to deadhead crabapples and flowering dogwoods … because that’s too much work (and dangerous to boot!). You just let them bloom as they see fit. And mostly they bloom up a storm! Well, a shrub is basically just a small tree. Why waste time removing faded flowers if it’s capable of blooming perfectly well all on its own?

And then there are gardeners who prune their shrubs annually because they’re there and it’s the right season. I mean, it’s just a thing you do. Well, not me! I consider that a pure waste of time. 

It seems to me that it’s more interesting to enjoy your garden rather than wasting time doing things unnecessarily. Most of the time, plants—and that includes shrubs—can just take care of themselves!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “Is Pruning Shrubs After They Bloom Really Necessary?

  1. I have a beautiful Dwarf Korean Lilac that has to be trimmed every year. Yes, it should be moved, but there’s no way this vintage gardener could do it. 🙂

  2. Roses almost never get pruned enough while dormant in winter! Not many people get it; that for many plants, pruning promotes more vigorous growth and bloom.

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