How to Prune Trees and Plants

White daisy flowers being cut with hand pruners and garden gloves

The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 15 mins - 3 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $0

Although the task of trimming beautiful foliage is sometimes hard for gardeners to swallow, regular pruning keeps most plants healthy and encourages new growth. But when and what to prune depends on the type of plant and the climate you live in.

Prune flowering and fruiting plants in the late winter or early spring to spur a hearty crop. The best time to prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs is in the late spring after the old flowers have fallen: It's crucial to prune them before new buds come in. Fruit trees and berry plants should be pruned during winter dormancy to avoid damaging the plant's fruit production. Many other plants need continual trimming to remain vigorous.

when to prune your plants

The Spruce

When to Prune Trees and Plants

Figuring out when to prune your plants can be confusing, but luckily pruning at the wrong time is rarely fatal. Off-cycle pruning might result in fewer flowers or fruit, but it usually won’t harm the plant in the long run. However, avoid pruning too late in the growing season. Doing so will encourage tender new growth that will die in winter weather.

Most fruit trees and berry plants need to be pruned while they are dormant. Failure to do so will result in the plant's steady decline, as it will send out suckers that direct energy away from fruiting branches. The exception to this rule is spring-flowering trees and shrubs. These need to be pruned soon after their flowers fade in late spring and early summer.

Furthermore, most perennial plants need to be cut back entirely either before or after the growing season. And they require regular pruning and deadheading all season long.


Click Play to Learn How to Prune Trees and Plants

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Gardening gloves
  • Protective clothing
  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers
  • Shears
  • Handsaw


  • Overgrown, mature plant


Materials and tools to prune different trees and plants

The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

How to Prune Fruit Trees

If you are growing a tree for its fruit, make pruning a high priority. Heading cuts, or cutting the ends of branches, concentrate each branch's energy and encourage it to produce more fruit the following season. Thinning cuts, or removing entire limbs, allow you to take out unruly suckers and dead or diseased limbs.

  1. Inspect Your Tree

    In the late winter or early spring, inspect your tree to see where it needs pruning. Take note of any branches that have grown over 2 feet. They will be unlikely to bear fruit again.

  2. Identify Which Branches to Keep and Remove

    Decide which branches to keep and which to remove based on health, shape, growth pattern, and personal preference. Sometimes it's helpful to mark branches for pruning with pieces of string as you're observing the whole tree.

    Dead branches wrapped with string to mark before pruning

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  3. Remove Unwanted Branches

    Use loppers or a handsaw to remove dead or diseased branches, as well as any unnecessary new branches that might divert energy from the fruit-bearing ones. Branches growing downward should be the first to go.

    Bare tree with long branches being cut with handsaw

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  4. Make Heading Cuts

    With your loppers, make heading cuts on old growth around the tree to shape it. Each cut will increase the number of lateral branches.

    Loppers pruning dead branches marked with string

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

How to Prune Berry Bushes

Raspberry and blackberry bushes in particular benefit from removing all the weak and broken canes (or stems) to allow sunlight to reach more of the bush. Make sure to wear protective clothing when pruning berries, as the thorns can be painful.

  1. Remove Unwanted Canes

    During October through March, remove any weak, dead, or diseased canes with pruning shears.

    Dead berry bush canes cut with hand pruners and gardening gloves

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  2. Thin the Canes

    Thin the remaining canes to 10 to 12 per bush by cutting unruly canes at their base.

    Thin unruly berry bush cane being cut with hand pruners

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  3. Trim the Height

    Trim the height of the entire bush, so it's no more than 5 feet tall.

    Tip of berry bush trimmed from the top with hand pruners

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

How to Prune Flowering Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

In general, you can prune flowering plants at any time. However, paying attention to when your plant blooms and pruning soon after will yield the showiest floral display.

  1. Note Plant Bloom Time

    During the first growing season, note when your plant blooms. This will inform your pruning schedule for the future.

    Flowering shrub in bloom with small white flowers on vertical branches

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  2. Remove Unwanted Branches

    Once the blooms fade, use your shears or loppers to remove any dead, weak, or diseased branches.

    Unwanted branch from flowering shrub cut with hand pruners

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  3. Remove the Suckers

    Get rid of the suckers at the base of the plant. These are unlikely to produce hearty blooms.

    Flowering shrub suckers cut with hand pruners near base

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  4. Shape the Plant

    Using your shears, make heading cuts to shape the plant. Cut just beyond a healthy bud, and angle the cut at 45 degrees.

    Flowering shrub with white flowers being shaped with shears in garden

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

How to Prune Perennials

Pruning non-woody perennials is pretty straightforward. Regular pruning and deadheading (pinching off spent flowers) throughout the growing cycle can create a perfectly manicured perennial bed.

  1. Cut Back on Dead Growth

    In the fall or early spring, use your shears to cut back all dead growth to the ground.

    Dead growth on perennial plant being cut with hand pruners

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  2. Start Training Your Plant

    As the plant grows, train it by cutting off or digging up parts that become unruly. Perennial plants you've dug up can be replanted or gifted to other gardeners.

    Young perennial plant dug up partially with garden spade

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  3. Pinch Flowers Below the Bloom

    During the growing season, regularly pinch or cut off spent flowers just below the bloom to maintain appearance.

    Spent daisy flower being cut with hand pruners closeup

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

  4. Trim Growth Regularly

    Trim vigorous, non-blooming growth with shears throughout the season.

    Non-blooming branch growth being cut with pruners from perennial plant

    The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

Pruning Evergreens

Many gardeners leave their evergreen trees alone, which is probably a good idea. Evergreen trees don’t really need to be pruned, and doing so can stress or distort the tree. For this reason, choose a dwarf evergreen if you have limited space.

That said, there are times when evergreen bushes need to be cut into a hedgerow or trimmed to branch out and become fuller. This requires mindful, minimal trimming during the height of the growing season.

Dead evergreen tree branch being cut with hand pruners

The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

Dead and bare evergreen tree branch being pruned with loppers

The Spruce / Colleen & Shannon Graham

Plant Pruning Tips

If you haven't been pruning your fruit-bearing bushes regularly, you might need to do some rejuvenation pruning to remove anything that's overgrown or dead. You can cut back the entire plant to 6 to 12 inches of growth (basically starting over), or you can prune gradually over time.

Unlike other fruit trees, peach trees should not be pruned while dormant. This delicate tree can suffer dieback when pruned in the winter. Pruning a peach tree during dormancy can also result in a less cold-hardy tree moving forward.

The popularity of hydrangea plants has spurred many different varieties, some that bloom on both old and new wood. For this reason, traditional pruning techniques have become outdated for certain types. So be sure to check the recommendations for your variety.

How and when to prune perennial plants is something you learn as you acquire gardening experience. It’s the type of knowledge that varies from region to region, and it’s part of the pleasure of gardening.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pruning Ornamental Plants in Landscape. University of Georgia Extension.