Pruning: How and When to Prune Flowering Plants

fall pruning

If you hesitate at the thought of bringing the pruning shears to your beautiful flowering plants, you’re not alone. The thought of pruning flowering plants can make even the most experienced home gardener pause. But pruning is important to your plants’ growth, and one of the best ways to bring more blooms the following season. But not all plants should be pruned the same way or at the same time of year. What gets pruned and when? We are so glad you asked!

When to Prune, Timing Is Everything

When and where to prune a flowering plant largely depends on when and where it blooms. Properly timing the pruning of your flowering plants can make the difference between magnificent blooms next season, or—every gardener’s fear—no flowers at all. The key is to determine when and where the plant sets its buds for the next season. In general terms, we want to prune after flowering is finished but before budding begins. You want to prune before buds are set to keep from disturbing the following year’s blooms.

As a rule, flowering plants that bloom in early spring on old wood (or growth from the previous season), like azaleas, should be pruned a week or two after flowering. The new growth that follows is where buds will form. Those buds will then bloom the following spring on what by then will be the previous season’s growth.

Plants that bloom in late summer or fall, on stem growth from the current growing season, should be pruned in winter or early spring, while the plant is dormant. During the growing season that follows, buds will form and bloom on the current year’s growth.
Some plant types will make this easy and others not so much. Azaleas, for example, form buds all along the stem, so you can cut anywhere and still encourage buds to bloom. Hydrangeas are another story. Some hydrangea bloom on the old wood while others bloom on the new growth. The key is to figure out which type(s) you have.

Pruning Tips and Techniques

The reasons to prune flowering plants are fairly few: to control the size and shape the plants, to optimize the blooms, and to remove dead or diseased portions. Deadheading, for example, is the practice of pruning flowers after they have faded out of bloom. In some cases, dead wood is pruned away for safety reasons. The removal of dead wood can be done at any time and diseased wood should be removed as soon as possible. Fall pruning is usually restricted to these instances. In any case, most flowering plants require relatively few pruning sessions.

The act of pruning plants is somewhat ironic in that when we prune, we are in effect causing injury. When done properly, however, pruning techniques utilize the plant’s natural healing process to stimulate new growth and achieve optimal health, beauty, and vitality. For the best results, make sure you fertilize as well as prune. Some plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons, love to be fertilized right at the end of the blooming season as well as during the summer. Finally, use proper tools and keep them sharp in order to minimize trauma to the plant.

The key is to know your particular type of plant and what it needs most. Pruning may not be easy, but the results are well worth the work. Two excellent sources of additional information come from Stihl’s Pruning Guide, a manufacturer of pruning tools, and Proven Winners Rules of Thumb for Pruning Flowering Shrubs.

As always, never hesitate to call on your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green whenever you have questions or concerns about caring for your lawn and landscape. We are here to help.