7 Shrubs to Prune in Spring

Spring is busy, but thankfully not everything in the garden needs to be attended to. There are plenty of shrubs you can leave alone and only a few that truly, noticeably benefit from being trimmed. In this article, we’ll talk about plants that you should get around to pruning in the springtime. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view for months afterward.

Caryopteris

You can treat this plant like you would treat a perennial. Just chop it all the way back to the ground and it’ll flush with nice healthy growth and a good habit.

Prune this plant back to about 1/3 to 1/2 of its total size, depending on the size of your plant. Small plants can be pruned harder, big plants should be pruned less. You want it to have a sturdy base to grow from, so it doesn’t flop over. If you have a Pugster® butterfly bush, watch this how-to video on how to prune it.

All of our clematis bloom on new wood. If you’d like to control the height, you can cut each plant to the listed height.

‘Diamond Ball’ – 3 ft.
Happy Jack® Purple – 2 ft.
Jolly Good™ – 2 ft. 
Pink Mink® – 2 ft.
Still Waters™ – 2 ft. 
‘Sweet Summer Love’ – 2 ft. 
‘Viva Polonia’ – 3 ft. 

Hydrangea paniculata

Prune 1/3 off of this plant, leaving a sturdy base of 2/3 of its total size. Remove thin spindly stems, especially on the inside of the plant. This will encourage good airflow. Watch this quick how-to video to learn just what to do.

Hydrangea arborescens

Prune 1/3 off this plant, leaving a sturdy base of 2/3 its total size. Check out this video to get the method exactly right. 

Benefits from both a spring pruning and periodic rejuvenation pruning. In the spring, give it a rounded habit with shears. Every 3 to 5 years prune out 1/3 of the thickest branches to encourage juvenile growth. Watch this video for tips on how to prune.

All of our roses bloom on new wood. They should be methodically pruned in a way that takes out dead or damaged wood, encourages an open habit, and produces outward-facing growth. Watch this video to see exactly how to prune your mature rose.

More shrubs can be pruned in the springtime if you see that it’s necessary, but they don’t necessarily need it if they already have a handsome habit. Here’s a list of shrubs you can lightly prune or trim in the spring without damaging.

Abelia – early spring
Azalea – after flowering
Bottlebrush – after flowering
Buttonbush – after flowering
Camellia

Crapemyrtle
Diervilla
Dogwood – periodic rejuvenation pruning
False Cypress
Rose of Sharon – early spring
Sweetshrub

Not sure if you need to prune or just deadhead? Watch this video to find out.

Comments (8)

  1. Ellen Hull

    Thanks for this article—I have a PW smoke bush, it was supposed to be the newer dwarf version, but at this point it’s grown at least 10 ft tall. Last year I cut it back late winter to about 4 ft, this will be its 4th year of being in the ground. Got a couple of blooms last year, on the lower part of the bush. Obviously this bush was mis-labeled when I bought it at a local nursery. My husband is wanting to dig it out, claiming it’s too big for the area, since it branches out pretty wide into our path for the city composting cart. If I keep pruning this way back will I ever see the Smokey blooms I was hoping for or should I dig it out and attempt to re-plant it in the semi-wooded lot behind our property? Can a bush this age even be successfully transplanted?

    • Holly

      All the articles I’ve read say to get it back under control to do a “Hard Pruning” and prune it back to 6-8″ from the ground. You will sacrifice the blooms that year but if you get it under better control, you can trim less in future years. I wanted to get the new dwarf Smoke Bush but you are making me rethink that choice.

    • Kristina Howley

      You could try cutting it back every other year so you get blooms every other year. Or you could transplant it to a spot where it can grow to be whatever mature size it gets in your area. It has a fibrous root system, so it actually transplants pretty well. If you do plan to move it, I’d prune it back a good bit again this spring before you do. This will make it easier to move and keep the plant from spending too much energy trying to maintain that extra growth.

  2. Barbara Hainzl

    I also have clay soil and live in zone 5b. My plants get smaller each year instead of bigger. I have amended the soil around each plant as I put them in the ground but not the entire garden. I need help.

    • Holly

      The Missouri Botanical Gardens taught me that Leaf Mold is much better than compost. I now use it to amend all my beds down to a foot deep. We dig out and dispose the clay down 6 inches, then refill it with Leaf mold and turn it over or till it. Adding Some Gypsum and Azomite (Trace Minerals) makes it so you can grow anything! Don’t forget to fertilize every Spring with an acid loving plant fertilizer. For your already established beds, once it warms up and the plants are leafing out, try putting down Azomite, Gypsum, and a fertilizer for Acid loving Plants, then mulch about 4″ deep with Leaf Mold. If that doesn’t work, you have to remove soil, and make the beds as I described.

    • Linda Sain

      I have done same for my plants in clay soil. They never grow or get smaller.

    • Kristina Howley

      Your plants may be suffering from something called the bathtub effect. Check out an article on that here – https://www.provenwinners.com/learn/how-plant/should-you-amend-your-soil-when-you-plant

      If you replaced most of your native soil with non-native soil when you planted your shrubs, they’re likely just stunted in growth because of all the water being held around their roots. To fix this, you’ll want to do one of two things. You could dig up your shrubs, and combine the non-native soil with the clay soil around the hole and replant the plants. Or you could try to fork the native soil in around the non-native soil, this might not be quite as wholly effective, but would be a good place to start. In terms of tools, I like a garden fork for this kind of job because it’s sturdy and works pretty quickly.

  3. Anne Kingsley

    Welcome to the Plains!
    Do you fertilize your plants? That might help 😀 Do they need thinned out?

    Thriving in 5b

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Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.

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