How to prune young shrubs

How to prune young shrubs

Find out how to prune young shrubs like deutzias, lilacs and viburnums to encourage strong, healthy growth.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Time to act
Time to act

Do not Time to act in January

Do not Time to act in February

Do not Time to act in March

Do not Time to act in April

Do not Time to act in May

Do not Time to act in June

Do not Time to act in July

Do not Time to act in August

Do Time to act in September

Do Time to act in October

Do not Time to act in November

Do not Time to act in December

The pruning of a shrub during its formative years will determine its shape and how well it flowers.

In these early years, pruning is best done around the time of leaf fall, so you can judge which are the weakest shoots to remove. This allows the plant to channel all its energy into making strong, worthwhile stems and a vigorous root system to support its growth in the coming years.

After the first two years, pruning of early-flowering shrubs, like the deutzia in this feature, is best done straight after the blooms fade. Depending on the species, that would be any time from early spring (for shrubs like winter-flowering honeysuckle) to early summer (for deutzia and philadelphus).

For summer-flowering shrubs like buddleia, lavatera and potentilla, initial pruning should involve cutting the plant back by a third of its height in autumn, to prevent damage caused by winter gales. Then cut back hard in early spring, just as growth is starting.

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Follow this step-by-step guide to the formative pruning of young shrubs.

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You Will Need

  • Secateurs

Step 1

Once established, young shrubs like this deutzia will make strong, upright shoots that will create the framework of the plant. These stems will carry flowering shoots next year, and should be retained.

Assessing the shrub before pruning
Assessing the shrub before pruning

Step 2

Start at the base of the shrub and remove any thin, weak stems using secateurs. Cut flush to the main stem, taking care not to damage any of the nearby strong, upright shoots made this year.

Pruning out older stems from the base of the plant
Pruning out older stems from the base of the plant

Step 3

Cut out old stems in the centre of the shrub to prevent congestion and dead wood at the base. This will allow air to circulate freely in the centre, which helps deter pests and diseases.

Pruning out old stems from the centre of the plant
Pruning out old stems from the centre of the plant

Step 4

Reduce the height of the vigorous, upright shoots that have been made during this season. Cut back by a third, to just above the point where leaves are attached to the stem.

Reducing the height of the stem
Reducing the height of the stem

Step 5

Step back and check there’s now an even, balanced arrangement of strong upright stems. Depending on the shrub’s vigour, leave between three and seven stems as a framework to carry blooms.

Stepping back to check the shrub after pruning
Stepping back to check the shrub after pruning
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Other shrubs to prune in this way