Fall is a good time to sharpen those old pruners and take a look at what trees and shrubs in your garden would benefit from a cut back. When plants are in their ‘dormant’ or sleeping state for winter you can easily see the shape of the branches and it is a safe time to cut off wood.  We like pruning, as it will cut away dead and dying branches, old flower heads or places that insects could turn into a winter condo.  Pruning can often revitalize a plant; as a good example pruning red twig dogwood will lead to more colorful stems.

One good rule of thumb for fall pruning is that you do NOT prune any early spring flowering shrub to avoid cutting off flower buds! So try to avoid pruning plants like forsythia, lilac, mock orange and flowering almond in the fall – they are best pruned in spring after they flower. It is ok to thin these spring flowered shrubs if they need it – but remember with every cut you are taking off flowers.

Typically you are trying to either ‘thin’ a plant or ‘rejuvenate’ the shrub.    When we thin we try to remove whole branches and stems but keep the overall look and shape of the plant intact. Viburnum is a good example of a shrub that we think benefits from occasional thinning.

Rejuvenation is a more severe pruning – with the goal of renewing the shrub by taking off all or most of the older branches and just leaving some of the younger branches. Weigela is a good example of a shrub that benefits from a rejuvenation style of pruning. Rejuvenation pruning will lead to a healthier plant and to more flowering.

Do not prune roses back too hard in the fall, typically just remove the dead flowers and maybe take off the upper one-third to minimize any snow damage.   For more details and pictures of ways to make the right cuts – see below:


By Laurie Scullen