Gardening: Enhancing the Beauty of Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Bring back your pruning overgrown lilacs, forsythia, mock orange, pieris and other spring flowering shrubs while maintaining their natural beauty and springtime floral display.

Prune spring-flowering shrubs right after blooming for maximum bloom. These shrubs set their flower buds in the summer, so pruning at other times of the year reduces or eliminates the spring floral display. Significant pruning of these shrubs can also be done at the end of winter. It’s easier to see what needs to be cut and the plants respond well to pruning at this time of year. You will simply eliminate some of the spring flowers.


Summer-flowering shrubs like potentilla, blueberry, and Annabelle-type hydrangeas bloom on new growth. Prune them, if necessary, in late winter or early spring before growth begins or anytime during the dormant season.

Make sure you have the proper tools and safety equipment before making the first cut. Protect your eyes and hands with safety glasses and gloves. Then make sure your pruning tools are clean and sharp. Using the right pruning tool for the job helps relieve muscle tension and fatigue while making proper cuts that close quickly. This will reduce the risk of insects and diseases entering the plant.

Use bypass pruners to cut small stems with a diameter of ½ inch or less. These have two sharp blades, like scissors, and make clean cuts that close quickly. Use a bypass lopper like the ClassicCut from Corona Tools with soft grip handles that fit well and cut branches up to 1 ¾ inches in diameter. Loppers have long handles that give you greater leverage and extend your reach.

You will need a pruning saw when pruning renewal. A short-bladed saw makes it easier to access and cut large stems at ground level. Look for a saw, like the RazorTooth Saw, with a pull-cut action and an ergonomic handle. It allows for quick and easy cuts and minimizes hand fatigue.

Once you have your tools, you are ready to start pruning. Reduce the height and leggy growth of overgrown sucker shrubs over the next three years. This type of renewal pruning is better for the plant and most gardeners also find it less stressful for them.

Remove one-third of the tallest, oldest stems at ground level each year for three years with renewal pruning. If your shrub has 12 stems, you will prune four to the ground this year, four more the following year, and you will remove the last four older stems in the third year. At the end of three years, you have a smaller shrub with leafy stems from ground to tip and flowers at a level you can enjoy.

Start by removing any crossed or dead branches. Disinfect tools with 70% alcohol or disinfectant spray between cuts, if you suspect the plant is suffering from disease. This will help reduce the risk of disease spreading throughout the plant.

You can stop pruning at this stage and continue pruning the following year at the end of winter. If you decide to continue, remove some older stems at ground level. Bringing these stems back to the ground promotes new growth at the base of the plant.

Minimize further pruning at this stage. You can reduce the height of any wayward branches as needed. Make your cut at a slight angle above an outward facing bud or stem. This encourages growth away from the center of the plant, reducing the risk of branch crossing in the future.

Maintain the waist and prevent the growth of long legs with regular pruning in the future. Simply remove a few older stems at ground level every year or two. Investing a little pruning throughout the life of your plants helps improve their health, beauty and your enjoyment.

About Marion Alexander

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