Winter Pruning of Deciduous Shrubs: Step-by-Step Guide

winter pruningWinter pruning of deciduous shrubs can be very beneficial to your landscape plants. Deciduous shrubs are woody ornamental plants that drop their leaves in the winter. As colder weather draws closer, deciduous shrubs will stop producing new leaves and begin to lose their foliage. Once this happens, it’s time for winter pruning. Many deciduous shrubs respond very well to dormant season pruning and will produce healthier foliage and more abundant blooms. Winter pruning is an opportunity to help the plant renew itself and stay healthy. Here are the steps to take to winter-prune your shrubs.

The Importance of Winter Pruning

Deciduous shrubs need winter pruning to ensure they have a healthy, vigorous growth cycle. Winter pruning can help control a plant’s size, direct growth in a particular direction or away from a particular direction, influence flower and fruit production, rejuvenate overgrown and old plants, and help with a plant’s health and appearance. 

Types Of Winter Pruning

Thinning – This type of pruning helps control size and creates better opportunity for air flow through the plant, thus reducing the possibility of diseases during the growing season. Thinning is very useful for plants that produce many branches near the base of the plant such as forsythia, viburnum and euonymus. The goal is to remove approximately ⅓  of the branches including old growth, dead or damaged branches, and crossing branches. Besure to remove branches at the point of origin. Reduction – This is a good method for making an oversize plant smaller. To do this, prune a branch back to a healthy bud. The cut should be made ¼” above the bud and should be done at an angle across the branch. Do not leave a stub as this will create an opportunity for disease and insects to invade the plant.

Tips for Winter-Pruning Shrubs

So, you’re looking to get rid of that brown leafy branch on your deciduous shrub. Here are some tips for winter-pruning shrubs: 1) Start by cutting out any dead, diseased or damaged branches. 2) Remove approximately ⅓ of the interior branches of the plant focusing on older wood, branches that are scraping against other branches and branches growing towards the interior of the plant. 3) Cut off any branches that are touching the ground. This is crucial because it will stop pests from getting inside and causing more damage. 4) Reduce the size of the plant enough to allow it to grow the next few seasons and still not exceed the size you want it to be. 5) Spread a 2”  layer of mulch around the base of the plant to insulate it from the cold.


After a season of beautiful blooms, winter pruning deciduous shrubs can help your garden to look its best. Pruning deciduous shrubs in the winter can not only add beauty to your garden but also reduce the risk of pests, diseases and damage, and create a healthier plant. Growing Better Gardeners is not just our tagline, it is our mission.


Growing Better Gardeners is not just our tagline, it is our mission.

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