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Shrubs: pruning early-flowering

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last updated Dec 15, 2011
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Early-flowering shrubs, including Rhododendrons, at RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey.

Deciduous shrubs that flower in late winter, spring and early summer need annual pruning to encourage strong, healthy shoots and improve flowering. Annual pruning also prolongs the life of these early-flowering shrubs. Such plants fall into RHS Plant Selector pruning groups 2, 3 and 5.

Suitable for... Back to top

This advice is suitable for deciduous shrubs (losing their leaves in winter) that flower in spring or early summer. Newly planted shrubs only need trimming and shaping.

Overgrown shrubs may need drastic pruning to renovate them. Evergreen shrubs are pruned in a slightly different way.

When to do it Back to top

Early-flowering shrubs are pruned after flowering (in late winter to spring and early summer, depending on the shrub).

They usually flower on the previous year’s growth. Pruning immediately after flowering allows the maximum time for development of young growth to provide the following year’s flowers before the end of summer.

How to prune Back to top

Pruning requirements depend on the type of shrub, but all early-flowering shrubs need routine removal of damaged, diseased or dead wood, as follows:

  • Cut out any damaged or dead shoots back to their point of origin or to ground level
  • Where there are many stems remove some to ground level to keep the bush open and avoid congestion
  • Finally take out any weak, spindly or twiggy shoots right to the point of origin or to ground level so the plant concentrates its resources on strong new shoots that will bear the best flowers

Then continue depending on the type of shrub. For convenience, we have divided early-flowering deciduous shrubs into three groups on the basis of timing and type of pruning required:

1. Deciduous shrubs with flowers on strong young growth (Pruning group 2)

Timing: Prune immediately after flowering
Examples: Flowering currant (Ribes), Forsythia, mock orange (Philadelphus), Weigela
Pruning: Cut back flowered growth to strong young shoots lower down. Each year cut out up to 20 percent of ageing stems to near the base

2. Deciduous shrubs producing new flowering growth from or near ground level (Pruning group 3)

Timing: Prune immediately after flowering
Examples: Kerria, Neillia
Pruning: Remove flowered shoots back to vigorous sideshoots. Cut back one in three stems to ground level each year.

3. Deciduous shrubs that respond to hard pruning after flowering (Pruning group 5)

Timing: Prune immediately after flowering
Examples: Prunus triloba
Pruning: Cut back all the stems to near the base

After pruning, mulch and feed.

Problems Back to top

Look out for the following problems when you are pruning;  bacterial canker, bleeding from pruning cuts, bracket fungi, coral spot and verticillium wilt.

Non-flowering can also be a problem.

Quick facts

Suitable for Spring- and early-summer-flowering deciduous shrubs
Timing Prune after flowering
Difficulty Moderate