Examine garden shrubs each spring to determine their pruning needs. Cut out dead or diseased wood, then prune as needed to control size and shape or to encourage flower growth. You can perform most pruning jobs with a one-hand pruner for shoots and small stems.
Lopping shears for branches up to 2 inches thick; a pruning saw for larger branches: a pole pruner for tall trees and shrubs; and hedge shears. Keep tools clean and sharp.
To promote compact, bushy growth, head back, or shorten, a branch to just above an outward-facing bud or shoot. Trimming out, or removing stems or branches at the base, produces a taller, less dense shrub. Shear, or surface clip, densely foliaged hedge and topiary plants.
Make clean cuts that slope back and away from the bud or shoot. When removing whole branches, cut flush with the trunk or main branch.
Shrubs that flower in spring on the previous season’s shoots (such as acacia, deutzia, forsythia, Hydrangea hortensis, kerria, stephanandra) should be pruned by one-third right after blooming: remove older, worn-out branches and weak new shoots. Shrubs that bloom after midsummer on shoots of the current season (Buddleia davidii, fuschia, Hydrangea paniculata, spirea, tamarisk) should be pruned in early spring; cut back the previous year’s shoots to two or three buds from the base.
In general, evergreen shrubs need little pruning, except to remove weak wood in spring, to cut off dead flowers, or to control size. In spring, use a pruning saw to cut back to within a few inches of the ground badly overgrown hollies, yews, and other evergreens capable of renewing themselves from the base.
Rejuvenate an overgrown hibiscus or lilac shrub by cutting it back to within 2 to 6 feet of the ground; remove thin branches and all suckers from around the base.