Late-Winter Pruning


Late winter is the ideal time for lots of pruning around the garden. Image by MireXa courtesy iStock.
Late-winter is the ideal time for lots of pruning around the garden. Image by MireXa courtesy iStock.

One of my favorite tasks each year is the first pruning of the season. It's relatively easy and helps give the garden a little tidy-up. Ideally, this should be done in late winter while the plant is still dormant (February or March), so that all of that prolific spring energy can be used effectively when it awakens. If you're eager to get back out into the garden, here are some guidelines for what to prune (and more importantly, what not to prune) as well as a short series of video tutorials on how and where to prune to help get you started.


Plants to Prune in Late-Winter

Late-spring and summer-blooming trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and vines

  • clethra

  • smoke bush

  • butterfly bush

  • crape myrtle

  • wisteria

  • hydrangea paniculata (e.g., "Lime Light", "Bobo", "Phantom")

  • hydrangea arborescens (e.g., "Annabelle")

  • ornamental grasses (except for nassella aka mexican feather grass which should be combed out)

  • late summer and autumn-blooming clematis

  • lavender

  • roses

  • evergreens (e.g., boxwood, laurel, yew, and holly)

NOTE: Be mindful that some birds may have started nesting (especially later in March), so check your plants before you begin to prune.


Plants NOT to Prune in Late-Winter

Most early- and mid-spring blooming trees, shrubs and vines

  • magnolias

  • hydrangea macrophylla (i.e., the traditional blue or pink-flowering ones)

  • climbing hydrangea

  • oakleaf hydrangea

  • lilac

  • early-blooming clematis (e.g., montana varieties)

NOTE: Pruning these plantings in late winter will result in significantly less or possibly no flowers later in the season.


VIDEO 1: An Intro to Pruning Hydrangea

VIDEO 2: How and Where to Prune

VIDEO 3: The Finished Shrub