Winter Pruning Tips

Wondering what shrubs need pruning in December and January in Howard County, MD? Winter is a great time to prune. Lets face it- there isn’t a lot of other garden tasks for winter and we tend to be so busy keeping up with our gardens in spring-fall that spending some time pruning in the winter is a good idea! Plus the branches are easier to see when the leaves fall off, so that is a bonus. Evergreens should be pruned throughout the growing season but most other shrubs or trees can be pruned in the winter. There is less worry about transmitting pests and diseases from plant to plant and the plants put on vigorous growth in the spring after pruning.

Pruning can be done for a variety of reasons including: keeping the plant healthy, maintaining the shape of the plant, encouraging growth and removal of dead portions of the plant. We advise that the primary reason for pruning be to keep the plant healthy by clearing cross branches to allow for sunlight and air to get to the inner portions of the plant and removing suckers. Shearing shrubs into shapes that go against their natural growth habit can be time consuming and unhealthy for the shrub. Instead, select proper plants for your locations. Also- if you know you are selecting a plant that will likely outgrow its location then start pruning it early in its life, when plants are more apt to withstand the pruning/shaping.

We recommend starting with a good plan- what is your goal for the particular plant you are pruning? Getting clarity ahead of time can help you prevent removing too much of the plant at once. It’s recommended not to remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. As you prune start slowly and take many steps back to see how you are doing! Start with removing the branches that cross over each other on the inside of the plant. Then remove suckers- those branches that start low and grow straight up through the shrub- they’ll never turn into valuable branches. Next, removed some overall height if that is what you want to do. You really don’t NEED to prune if your plants are selected for the right locations.


When pruning make sure you use clean and sharp tools. We use loppers and felco pruners. We’ll use shears for a few shrubs that grow pretty prolifically like spirea, abelia, barberry and other shrubs that have delicate stems and recover quickly from shearing. In general we don’t shear! If you have sheared a plant almost to death over the years you can perform a restorative pruning which will correct the outside growth common in over shearing. When making pruning cuts make sure to cut just above the crotch of the branch as pictured below. Because over-pruning can damage a plant, hand pruning using loppers or felco pruners, and not large shears, are recommended. You can see our guide to our favorite hand tools and how to use them here. When pruning, be careful to not remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time as this can leave the plant susceptible to disease or pests.







A list of shrubs that can be pruned in December and January appear below. Different plants can and should be pruned at different times, however I have often pruned things out of season so if you have a question about something you want to prune that is not on the list give us a call or email us! To find a comprehensive listing of the best time of year for pruning many shrubs click here.


  • Butterfly bush
  • Summer blooming hydrangea


  • Abelia
  • Arborvitae
  • Beautyberry
  • Cherry laurel
  • Clethra
  • Cotoneaster
  • Redtwig dogwood
  • Eleagnus — invasive, completely remove
  • Euonymus — invasive, completely remove
  • Gardenia
  • Hibiscus (Rose of Sharon) — invasive, completely remove
  • Holly (deciduous)
  • Juniper
  • Mugo Pine
  • Osmanthus
  • Photinia
  • Potentilla
  • Privet — invasive, completely remove
  • Smoke Tree
  • Sumac
  • Yew


  • Chastetree
  • Crape myrtle
  • Hypericum, St. Johns Wort
  • Nandina
  • Summer blooming spirea



Still not sure whether you should prune or when to prune? Give us a call or email us and we can come prune for you!