Winter Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs

Late winter is a good time for pruning in many regions. Here are some tips and a list of common shrubs and trees to prune in late winter or early spring.

Pruning deciduous plants in the winter promotes fast regrowth in the spring, as most plants are dormant during the winter. It’s also easier to see the shape of deciduous plants in the winter, since their foliage is gone.

  • Prune on a mild, dry day.
  • When pruning, first prune out dead and diseased branches.
  • Then remove the overgrown and smaller branches to increase light and air at the crown of the tree.
  • In general, your goal is to keep the branches that develop or maintain the structure of the tree.
  • Cut branches at the node, the point at which one branch or twig attaches to another.

See more pruning pointers.

Abelia Autumn to early spring Maintain a graceful arching form by cutting away some of the oldest stems at ground level. Pinch growing shoots in spring if you want bushier growth.
Azalea Late winter or during the growing season Before growth begins for the season, improve the form of the bush by shortening stems that jut out of place. During the growing season, pinch growing shoot tips where you want bushier growth.
Butterfly bush Late winter Cut all stems to the ground.
Chaste tree Late winter or early spring Evergreen species need little pruning beyond cutting out weak, twiggy, dead, or broken branches.
Crape myrtle Late winter Wherever the plant is not totally winter-hardy, cut off winter-killed wood or cut the whole plant to the ground. Little pruning is needed where this plant is cold-hardy.
Hydrangea Mostly late winter For smooth hydrangea, cut all stems to the ground. For bigleaf or oakleaf hydrangea, cut stems with old flowers still attached back to fat flower buds.
Smoke bush Late winter or early spring, before growth begins Needs little pruning unless you grow it for its purple leaves rather than for its flowers. In this case, prune severely to stimulate vigorous new growth each spring.



The Pruning Book, by Lee Reich


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I always wait for my

I always wait for my hydrangea to put on leaves before I cut them back, otherwise I don't get any blooms. I cut the dead parts from the branch ends after leaves have formed. This way I am sure I have cut only what needs to be cut. Then I have beautiful blooms in the Spring. Hydrangea is one of my favorite perenials except that no matter what I try mine all turn out blue or purple, no pinks or reds. I've tried all of the tricks I've ever read to get pink ones, even bought a red one, and a pink one, but when they bloom the next year they are blue. So - I just enjoy my beautiful blue ones and the red one turned purple and is beautiful. By the way, I live in LA., may make a difference in pruning times and techniques. I'm not sure.

I have the opposite

I have the opposite problem... my blooms are always pink, and I can't get any blue ones! I also wait until the leaves form to prune. It looks strange for a month or so, but if I cut the stems before that, they don't bloom. Two years ago, my bushes started flowering, but the flowers all faded and shriveled. Not sure what happened. This year, I hardly had any blooms on that bush. Hopefully this year they'll make a nice showing!

Soil PH is the determining

Soil PH is the determining factor for color on this plant. as for the flower prefall it could be a water stress problem or a disease. Check with your local plant nursery or garden shop for more on the problem. Also see my answer to LA for a further explaination of the effects of PH of soil on Hydrangea

The color of the Hydrangea is

The color of the Hydrangea is determines by the PH of the soil. Ask at your local garden shop or look it up on line which soil ph determines what color. Here in SC most of our bushes turn out white or light pink because our soil is acidic. Out west most soils are alkaline you can test your soil with an inexpensive soil test kit or send a sample to your local college extension program to get it tested for ph and a list of what to do to get your plants to bloom another color. Jeff Davis Associate Degree horticulture.

Here in Missouri we can play

Here in Missouri we can play with the soil, I added the acidifier, and ended up with the most beautiful bush of all colors! I called it the Baby Shower Hydrangea! I was blessed with every color! Mixed on one bush! However I will confess to adding nails to the soil 3 years ago that I know will rust to acidify, hoping to get the very blue!

WHEN is late winter in

WHEN is late winter in Southwest Oklahoma? We can have fruit trees starting to bud out quite early some years ... first of March.

In Oklahoma, the best time to

In Oklahoma, the best time to prune fruit trees is from late February to early March. Many folks in southern Oklahomam prune in February. Just don't prune too early in winter or the trees are susceptible to injury. Check with your local county cooperative extension.

I have a bush/tree that

I have a bush/tree that blooms small pretty purple flowers. It can be cut into a bush or trim bottom limbs and it grows into a tree.
We had our first freeze about a week ago and it really froze the it. The trunk and limbs look ok.
The blooms are at the top of the limb and have many little balls that open up with the purple color.
I live in North Texas and this is my first year with this plant and need to know if and when to trim it back.
Thanks, Deb

It's hard to give pruning

It's hard to give pruning advice not knowing what type of blooming bush you have. Some bushes are pruned in early spring when they are dormant and others are pruned right after they are done blooming. Try to find out what type of bush you have before pruning. Look in catalogs or online to see if you can find a similar bush. Or next year, when it is blooming, take a sample to your local garden center for help.

I live in northern Indiana.

I live in northern Indiana. It has been cold here for weeks. On an early December day I decided on a lark to prune back a trio of bushes I felt too tall.

When I had completed the job I thought the skeletons looked good but wondered if my timing was appropriate.

I googled "winter Pruning" and got your site. It would appear I have infringed two rules: I pruned too early in winter and may have approached the "no more than a third of the bush" limit.

Now I have expose my plants to winter scarring and or death. Will I be able to tell in late February if there is winter scarring? Would it be adviseable for me to prune back another inch or two in late February?

Sure wish I would have checked your site before I got out the pruners!

It depends on what type of

It depends on what type of bushes you have. Some varieties are more sensitive to winter scarring than others. Don't prune more this winter. Wait for spring growth and hopefully your bushes will be fine.

Can you still prune

Can you still prune rhododendrons or is it too late in the season. How severe can you prune.

Hi, Ellie: If you click on

Hi, Ellie: If you click on Spring Pruning Guide above, you can see that rhododendrons really should be pruned -- carefully -- in the spring, after they have flowered. You could do it now, but it would be best to wait. Thanks for asking!

the moon pruning guide says

the moon pruning guide says when to prune to "discourage" and "encourage" growth -- does that mean discourage growth of the tree or of the branch?

Hi Marnie, To discourage

Hi Marnie,
To discourage growth means that the tree or bush will not grow back the pruned branches quickly. If you want a tree or bush to fill out quickly you prune during the encourage growth dates.

When "cutting to the ground"

When "cutting to the ground" does mean to actually cut out all visable signs of the bush? I have a butterfly bush that went through a particually harsh winter in the NE. The thing is completely brown and lifeless.

Essentially, that is what it

Essentially, that is what it means, Mike: cutting to within a few inches of ground level. Cut out all that brown lifelessness. Your butterfly bush should come back as good or better than ever.

Pruning in the winter may be

Pruning in the winter may be easier on the owner and/or tree technician, because the view of the branches is much clearer without the foliage, and all above detailed points are very useful.