Low-Maintenance Shrubs You Shouldn't Prune Much

Let vase-shaped bushes and those with arching branches grow naturally

Forsythia, yellow spring flowers hedge and green grass
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Shrubs that are vase-shaped and/or have arching branches shouldn't be pruned much, making them low-maintenance shrubs. Since they look best when allowed to assume their natural shapes, trimming them spoils their appearance. You should remove dead branches or diseased wood as part of your pruning regimen, but in general, it's best to locate these bushes in a space suited to their mature measurements and then just let them grow.

  • 01 of 10


    Large weigela shrub with arching branches.

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    Weigela florida is a long-time favorite with arching branches. The traditional version (6 to 10 feet tall and wide) was grown mainly for its trumpet-shaped, light-pink blooms. Then, newer cultivars came along and changed everything. Other flower colors (dark-pink, white, red) became available, and, more important, they transformed Weigela florida into a foliage plant. For example, many gardeners grow the Wine and Roses cultivar mainly for its burgundy leaves.

    Grow weigela in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8, in a location with well-drained soil and full sun.

  • 02 of 10


    Physocarpus opulifolius 'Luteus'
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    Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) is a late-spring bloomer with pinkish-white flowers, but it typically makes a bigger contribution to the landscape with its leaves borne on arching branches. The 'Diablo' cultivar, for example, has great-looking leaves for three seasons, and they're especially pretty when they assume their fall-foliage colors. The branches' peeling bark provides winter interest. This shrub grows 8 to 10 feet high with a similar spread.

    Suited to zones 3 to 7, ninebark adapts to a variety of conditions. It performs best in full sun (in the north) and in soil with good drainage. 

  • 03 of 10

    Virginia Sweetspire

    Virginia Sweetspire
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    Itea virginica 'Merlot' is another bush with arching branches that you shouldn't prune much, but it has one drawback that makes it less low-maintenance than some similar plants: a suckering habit. Still, your pruning needn't go beyond cutting out these suckers (if you wish to restrict the plant's spread) when you see them.

    Another fall-foliage standout and late-spring bloomer, this 4-by-4-foot shrub is suited to zones 5 to 9. Like ninebark, it tolerates an array of growing conditions, but, to be on the safe side, improve its soil's drainage with soil amendments. And if you want to maximize fall color, give it full sun.

  • 04 of 10


    Yellow Splash of Forsythia Blooms
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    If the yellow flowers of Forsythia don't say "Spring has arrived" to you, then you're just not a spring person. The hybrid F. x intermedia a fine specimen shrub with arching branches. If you want to push the "arch" further, F. suspensa provides you with a weeping habit. Either way, avoid hacking off the tops of these shrubs, which ruins their looks. Restrict yourself to removing suckers (if you wish to avoid spreading) and ​rejuvenation pruning

    F. x intermedia is suitable for zones 5 to 8 and matures at 4 to 6 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide. Grow it in full sun and a well-drained soil if you can, but it isn't fussy.

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  • 05 of 10

    Witch Hazel

    Witch hazel bush with arching branches.

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    The ultimate early-spring flowering shrub, blooming even before forsythia, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' starts blooming when the calendar still says "Winter." For best effect, skip the pruning and let it achieve its natural vase-shaped form of 12 feet with a similar spread. While yellow flowers are its signature feature, you can get good orange fall color by locating this bush in full sun, mixing compost into the ground to promote fertility and drainage, and keeping its soil acidic. It grows in zones 5 to 8.

  • 06 of 10

    Bridalwreath Spirea

    Shrub of spiraea prunifolia or bridalwreath spirea
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    Spiraea × vanhouttei is a classic shrub for foundation plantings in zones 3 to 8. If you decide to use it this way, just make sure you don't jam it right up against the house wall. Take into account its mature dimensions of 5 to 8 feet tall and 7 to 10 feet wide. Dig your hole 6 or 7 feet away from your foundation when planting and just let it grow naturally, assuming the graceful shape that has made it a perennial favorite. Grow it on the south or west side of your home, since it likes full sun.

  • 07 of 10

    Mock Orange

    Mock orange shrub with arching branches.

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    Some types of mock orange (Philadelphus) are single-flowered, but 'Buckley's Quill' has fragrant, double, white flowers on a vase-shaped, 6-to-8-foot-tall and 4-to-6-foot-wide framework. Grow it in zones 4 to 8, in full sun to partial shade, and in a loamy soil. It's a one-season (spring) plant but worth growing if you're interested in moon gardens.

  • 08 of 10

    Japanese Rose

    Kerria shrub blooming against aquatic background.

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    Japanese rose (Kerria japonica) isn't a real rose, but don't let that stop you from growing it. With spring flowers that rebloom periodically in summer and fall, and with kelly-green bark that creates winter interest, it has plenty to offer. It's an easy plant to grow. Problem is, it may be too easy to grow, as it produces suckers that you'll have to pull out if you don't want more of it. Japanese rose is suitable for zones 4 to 9.

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  • 09 of 10

    Beauty Bush

    Light pink blossom of beauty bush.
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    Because of its size (10 feet by 10 feet), this is one flowering shrub that you'll definitely have to plan for before planting. Install beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) where it'll have plenty of room as it matures. You'll be glad you did when its vase-shaped framework gets so flooded with pink, bell-shaped flowers that the shrub becomes a focal point of your spring landscape. It grows in zones 4 to 8.

  • 10 of 10

    Purple Beautyberry

    Beautyberry shrub branches with purple berries.

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    Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) is one of the more novel low-maintenance shrubs for zones 5 to 8. The arching branches become loaded with purple berries in fall after displaying small, pink flowers in summer. In full sun it may become 4 feet tall and somewhat wider than that (if not pruned); in partial shade, it tends to stay a little smaller.

    Wild birds eat the berries, adding to the reasons why this is among the most fun plants to grow in the yard. The reason the bush is so low-maintenance is that pruning is optional. And if you do choose to prune, the procedure is simple: Since it blooms on new wood, you prune it down to the ground in early spring, then you don't prune it anymore.

Smart Decisions Reduce Landscape Maintenance

Owning a property with nice landscaping means a lot of responsibility since it seems there's always something to do. Certain chores, such as weed control, are unavoidable: Wherever plants that are pretty to look at grow, weeds will seek out their company. But you have some say in the matter when it comes to other chores. Pruning shrubs is a good example. You can reduce the amount of time you spend pruning by selecting the right shrubs to grow in the first place. Put the right shrub in the right spot, then sit back and enjoy the beauty it brings to the landscape.