How to - Techniques

How to prune spring-flowering shrubs

TLC tips to ensure that glorious bursts of spring colour reappear year after year


Know when to prune
Spring-flowering shrubs are able to bloom so early in the season because they produce their flower buds during the previous season. Forsythias, for example, start forming flower buds over the summer, and these nestle behind leaf axils where they remain dormant through fall and winter.

To prevent the removal of next season’s flower buds, it’s best to prune before the buds start to develop. Various shrubs produce buds at different times of the season, and climate plays a role, too, so it’s often difficult to gauge just when this will happen. Therefore, the safest time to prune is just after the shrub has finished blooming.

How to prune step by step
Here’s how to prune most spring-flowering shrubs, including serviceberry, deutzia, forsythia, beautybush, honeysuckle, mock orange, lilac and weigela.

  • Remove any dead or diseased wood, cutting stems right to the ground.
  • Prune out some of the older branches (these are thicker and darker than younger stems), cutting them back to about 30 centimetres from the ground. 
  • Shorten the remaining stems by about one-third and remove any inward-facing branches. This will control the size of the shrub and open it up to air and sunlight.
  • Remove any remaining dead blossoms; depending on the shrub, these can be removed by shearing, pruning or manually snapping them off.  
  • Pruning shrubs in this manner every year, being careful not to remove more than one-third of the overall size, ensures attractive, floriferous and healthy plants.

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