Spring Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs

Pruning Practices for Common Plants

February 26, 2018
Spring Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs

Which trees and shrubs get pruned in spring? See the Almanac’s spring pruning guide listing when and how to prune specific varieties of trees and shrubs.

When you prune a tree or shrub depends mostly on when it blooms and whether it blooms on growth produced in the same or previous years. Generally, those that flower after midsummer are pruned hard in spring. Those that bloom in winter, spring and early summer are pruned soon after flowering.

Spring Pruning Chart for Trees and Shrubs

Apple Early spring Prune moderately. Keep tree open with main branches well spaced. Avoid sharp V-shaped crotches.
Cherry Early spring Prune the most vigorous shoots moderately.
Clematis Spring Cut weak growth. Save as much old wood as possible.
Flowering dogwood After flowering Remove dead wood only.
Forsythia After flowering Remove old branches at ground. Trim new growth.
Lilac After flowering Remove diseased, scaly growth, flower heads, and suckers.
Peach Early spring Remove half of last year’s growth. Keep tree headed low.
Plum Early spring Cut dead, diseased branches; trim rank growth moderately.
Rhododendron After flowering Prune judiciously. Snip branches from weak, leggy plants to induce growth from roots.
Rose (except climbers) Spring, after frosts Cut dead and weak growth; cut branches or canes to four or five eyes.
Rose (climbers) After flowering Cut half of old growth; retain new shoots for next year.
Rose of Sharon When buds Cut all winter-killed wood to swell begin growth back to live wood.
Trumpet vine Early spring Prune side branches severely to main stem.
Virginia creeper Spring Clip young plants freely. Thin old plants and remove dead growth.
Wisteria Spring, summer Cut new growth to spurs at axils of leaves.

Now see our pruning pointers and When to Prune Trees and Shrubs for more advice.

Do you have any tips for pruning trees and shrubs? Tell us about them in the comments below!


Reader Comments

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jasmine with dry leaves

My jasmine gets a bit of direct sun and I don't know if is that or if is any other thing but some of hte leaves started to show up as "roasted", usually at the farthest end from the stem. What might be happening?

Jasmine with Burned Leaves

The Editors's picture

Burned leaves can be caused by dehydration, which may result from too much direct sunlight on the leaves, too little water, or in the case of indoor plants, being too close to a heat source. Burnt leaf tips can also be caused by a build up of chemicals from tap water. How many hours of direct sunlight does your jasmine get? If it’s outside, does it get regularly watered? 

My inside jasmine bush in a large pot.

For 2 years now I have wintered my jasmine bush in the garage in its large pot, and brought it outside after danger of frost and it has been fine. This year, all the leaves have wilted and are falling off. There is no heat in the garage. Should I cut the whole thing down to where I can see some green stems. The plant got to be about 6 foot tall in its large pot. Should I wait till it gets warmer to do the pruning? Our temps are very cold at night, but we are very behind for rain and snow. This year has been a paltry winter in New Mexico.

Jasmine Pruning

The Editors's picture

There’s a chance that the vines aren’t completely dead, so we would suggest waiting for warmer weather to see if they spring back to life and produce new buds. If they still show no signs of life, you can prune them down to the living parts. Typically, you don’t want to prune jasmine until after it blooms, but if the vines are already dead, it won’t be producing any blooms anyway! 

what are eyes on a branch?

You refer to "eyes" on a rose bush branch. I've looked this term up in multiple places and have gotten nowhere. Please tell me what you mean; thanks.

The Eyes Have It

The Editors's picture

Hi, Lise: Great question, thanks! An “eye” or “bud eye” on a rosebush branch is a small protrusion or bump where a leaf used to be and whence new growth will come. Thanks again!

Butterfly Bush appears dead.

We planted 3 butterfly bushes last year. They were beautiful. This spring they appear to be dead. What can we do to revitalize them? We live in Wisconsin.

I have 3 red leaf maples that

I have 3 red leaf maples that were trimmed to look like lollipops by the original owner. How do I go about getting them back to a more natural shape?

Hi, Duckfan: Without knowing

The Editors's picture

Hi, Duckfan: Without knowing your trees' age and size, it's difficult to say, but we would say, Just wait. Focus on having really healthy trees. See how they are going grow when unpruned. Then, next spring, after the leaves have appeared, go in and remove any dead and competing (for sunlight) branches, just trying to encourage the natural growth and shape that result from photosynthesis's need for sunlight. This may take a couple of years, but eventually, through visual observation of their growth and their response to your intermediate prunings, you should be able to divine how to help each tree along by limited, selected pruning -- if it's even necessary. Make sure the shears are sharp!

we have a crab apple tree and

we have a crab apple tree and it has a major branch with extending branches which have not bloomed this spring, wondering if we should wait until fall to prune and if we should only prune where the extended branches are at the joint or remove below that. For balance affects we would like new branches to grow out from the major branch. It is our first experience with this pretty blooming crab apple on our new property in Branson MO.

Thank you so much for any advice.

we hav a crab apple tree and

we hav a crab apple tree and this year the leaves were partly black on top, mold maybe then seem to turn brown this is 2yr old tree 7ft apples came in good and bigger than last year,

I have a moderately healthy

I have a moderately healthy silver maple. I'm wondering if I can prune now. I usually prune after last frost, but this year we went from 19 degrees to 55-70 degrees in a matter of 3-4 days, and the tree has strated to "bud". I need to prune a reasonably big limb. Will I harm the tree? Any alternative approaches?

Silver maples are best pruned

The Editors's picture

Silver maples are best pruned in the late winter or early spring. If you need to remove a tree branch, timing is less important than procedure. Make a proper cut just outside the branch bark ridge and collar.

Thanks folks!

Thanks folks!

Hello, I have an extremely

Hello, I have an extremely large either lilac (I think it might be a butterfly bush due to size and the leaf coloring/size) that is in dire need of a pruning. We just purchased the house last year and am not sure if it is safe to prune now- before it starts to flower. It flowered last year in June/July. It attracts hummingbirds, hummingbird moths, giant bees, bumble bees, butterflies etc. I don't want to kill it. Just wondering if its safe to dead head the old flower bunches that have gone to seed and are all ugly and woody looking now.

OH! And I have a hedge going all the way around my house, it blooms in the summer with yellow flowers and has pea-like pods that "pop" towards the end of the season. I'm thinking its called a carregana? When can I prune these back to a manageable size?

And lastly, I have another section of the yard that has a hedge/line of shrubs/trees that have dark green largeish arrow shaped leaves that look like a lilac however it has never flowered. I would say the tree/shrub(S) are about 5 and a bit feet tall and 5 feet in diameter. What are these? Will they ever flower?

Hello I have an extremely

Hello, you probably have all your answers by now but just in case you more than likely have a butterfly bush or a crape myrtle. You can always prune old dead blooms. I am not sure where you are located but by the end of April you should be safe to cut dead blooms.

As far as the yellow blooming hedge, they could be kerria or yellow baptisia.

The last specimen may be a Redbud tree. They bloom first in early spring then the leaves come out. I believe it takes several years for them to bloom.

I have heard the best time to

I have heard the best time to prune trees is in the Fall. Is Fall just another time that trees can be pruned, or is Spring the best time?

In general, you should not

The Editors's picture

In general, you should not prune trees in the fall, unless it is to remove damaged, diseased, or dead wood. Fall is a time when decay fungi are especially active. Also, pruning in fall (especially early fall) can encourage new growth, which may not harden off in time before winter's temperatures hit.

You can prune some trees in winter, when the tree is dormant. In cold climates, late winter is best, but before the buds start to emerge.

For flowering trees, it is best to prune spring-flowering trees immediately after they have finished flowering, before they develop next year's flower buds. Prune summer-flowering trees in winter or early spring.

Thanks for the Pruning table.

Thanks for the Pruning table. If you don't mind, how and when to prune Pear Trees.


Thank you

Inkberry should be cut back

Inkberry should be cut back in late winter or early spring.

can inkberry bushes be cut to

can inkberry bushes be cut to 10-12 inches in summer?

I have a wisteria plant (apx.

I have a wisteria plant (apx. 5 yrs old) which has not bloomed - I was told to hard prune it (cut it back) which I have done I also did a light pruning, with the same results - no blooms

It can take a good six years

The Editors's picture

It can take a good six years for a newly established wisteria to start flowering—sometimes longer! See our Wisteria page for more about pruning--and some "extreme" ideas to encourage blooming! See: http://www.almanac.com/plant/w...

you may need to fertilize it.

you may need to fertilize it.

While living in

While living in Fairfax,Virginia I planted Wisteria in a sunny and well drained area. The Wisteria took 7 years to bloom But once it bloomed it grew like crazy and bloomed beautifully. You should check out Longwood Gardens in Deleware www.longwoodgardens.org you can do a search on plants bushes or trees within their web site. I hope this information helps you. If you were to ask me would I plant Wisteria again? No no way it takes over it wants to control you and everything else in it's place. My husband and I spent many weekends cutting it back because it's growth is much like Jack in the bean stalk.