Pruning Trees and Shrubs in Spring

Pruning a tree

Early spring is the prime time for pruning many of your trees and shrubs. While some gardening sources advise that you prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs after they bloom, the ideal time for a lot of your plants is early spring.

First, procure the proper pruning equipment. Thin trees and large shrub canes require a curved drawcut pruning saw and a pair of lopping shears.

Top Pruning

Top pruning should be avoided on certain plants because many can form flower buds on growth from the previous year. Top pruning can result in a loss of flowers on lilacs, forsythia, honeysuckle, and select types of spireas.

Like shrubs, top pruning trees should be avoided to prevent giving them a sheared look. If top growth has to be removed, cut it at the crotch of the tree (where a single trunk splits into two to form a “Y” shape).

Shrub Canes

Overgrown shrubs can be thinned by the removal of some of the canes to the ground. Thinning these shrubs allows more light into the middle of the plant, preventing the scraggly, leggy look that can occur when a shrub becomes overgrown.

Generally, it is advisable to remove 1/3 of older canes on a yearly basis. Prune back canes that have grown too large, are infested by disease or insects, or that show signs of winter dieback. Clipping these canes results in a healthy, evenly flowering shrub without a leggy appearance. Decide how much to remove based on the plant’s cane density as well as the length of time since it was last pruned.


Spring is a great time to thin your smaller trees. Pay particular attention to sucker sprouts as well as branches that are broken, dead, and diseased. When pruning, be sure to make your cuts just outside of the flare or branch collar (the part at the base of the branch that appears slightly swollen) of the tree.

Flowering Shrubs

Pruning flowering shrubs too early in the season can encourage growth to resume from the base of the plant. Because this new growth is more vulnerable to low temperatures, it is best to prune these plants in late April or early May. Cut them down to a stubble when the spring temperatures start to warm up, and soon new, flowering growth will bloom. Prune roses by starting at the top of the canes then following them down until you locate healthy stems. Direct growth outward by making sloping cuts just above a side bud. The cut should point away from the plant’s center. Proper pruning will result in a shapelier rose bush.

For further assistance in creating a well-manicured yard, call Cardinal Lawns. We’re here to help you achieve a beautiful yard.

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