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10 Plants That Need Pruning in the Spring

Get ready for a new season of growth by pruning plants that will benefit from a spring trim. These are the top 10 plants to prune in the spring.

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Pruning Garden Mint Images - Liesel Bockl/Getty Images

How to Prune Plants

Effective pruning depends on three things. Timing. Technique. And sharp tools for a crisp, clean cut that seals more quickly than a ragged cut.

Use hand pruners for stems less than 1/4-inch thick, loppers for stems up to 1/2-inch thick, and a Japanese pruning saw or a bow saw for woody stems thicker than that. Early spring is a good time to prune many plants because they are dormant and won’t lose energy-producing foliage.

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Roses lingqi xie/Getty Images

Long-Stem Roses

Roses come in various growth habits, from long-stem hybrid teas, grandifloras and floribundas to mound-forming shrubs and sprawling ramblers. Because long-stem roses often suffer some winter dieback, spring is a good time to see where living green tissue ends and dead brown stem takes over.

When pruning roses, cut brown stems back to the green portion, cutting diagonally just 1/4-inch above a bud. Spring is also the time to thin out overgrown rose bushes, removing a few of the thickest, old stems.

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Sedumschnuddel/Getty Images

Upright Sedum

Upright sedums, such as the popular Autumn Joy, are a multi-season attraction. They even make a pretty sight when the flowers fade — the mounded caps look nice dusted with snow. These are low-maintenance succulents.

In spring, it’s time to remove the stems down to the base of the plant to allow for new growth. Cut the stems as close to the base of the plant as possible and wait for spring growth to appear a few weeks later.

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Sunchoke Jerusalem ArtichokeManuela Schewe-Behnisch / EyeEm/Getty Images

Sunchokes

This perennial sunflower (Helianthus), also known as Jerusalem artichoke, is often cut down in fall. However, it’s better to leave it standing because the stems make it easier to pull the edible tubers out of the ground late in the season. Those left undisturbed can be cut to the ground in late winter or early spring, using loppers or a pruning saw. The thick, dead stems can be cut into pieces for mulch.

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Redtwig DogwoodElrondPeredhil/Getty Images

Redtwig and Yellowtwig Dogwood

These Cornus shrubs are a welcome sight in late winter and early spring, when the stems are fully exposed and the bark is most colorful. Remove some of the oldest stems (they’re thicker and darker) to make room for more colorful juvenile growth.

It’s also time to remove any stems that are dead or injured from animal browsing. Use loppers to cut stems as close to the base as possible.

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Butterfly bushZen Rial/Getty Images

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is root hardy in cold winter areas. The top growth dies back to the ground, but the roots remain alive and capable of pushing out new growth in spring. In that case, cut plants down to the base with loppers in spring.

Note: In some areas, butterfly bush is considered invasive. Either plant a sterile variety or deadhead flowers immediately after blooming.

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Beautyberry CallicarpaDigiPub/Getty Images

Beautyberry

Beautyberry (Callicarpa) is hard to miss in the fall with its shiny purple or pink berries. The trouble is, it tends to suffer a fair amount of winter damage, which is why it’s advisable to prune the shrub in spring.

Remove all dead growth even if it means chopping the plant down to within six inches of the ground. It will regrow, flower and produce berries all in the same season.

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Caryopteris flowering shrubRogatnykh/Shutterstock

Bluebeard

Bluebeard (Caryopteris) often dies back to the ground where winters are cold. As such, it is considered more of a flowering perennial than a woody shrub. Use loppers or hand pruners to cut bluebeard back to about six inches. It blooms in mid-to-late summer on new growth, so you won’t miss out on flowering.

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Black-Eyed SusanAna Jecmenica / EyeEm/Getty Images

Black-eyed Susans

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia) dazzle with their golden flowers in late summer. Many gardeners let the flowers go to seed, leaving the stems in place to feed the birds and keep some structure in the perennial garden over winter.

In spring, remove the dead flower stems at the base of the plant with a sharp pair of hedge shears. Black-eyed Susan is one of many wildflowers that do well in home gardens.

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Chrysanthemums White Yellow Flowersrevenaif/Shutterstock

Chrysanthemum

While they are sometimes treated as an annual, these fall favorites sometimes overwinter successfully in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 7. The secret is to plant them early in the season so plants have time to establish their roots, and use mulch to help them survive the winter.

In spring, remove the mulch and cut the dead portion back to the base with sharp hedge shears or hand pruners. Small green rosettes should already be forming at the bottom. Chrysanthemums are an easy container plant.

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coneflowerChristopher Aquino/Shutterstock

Purple Coneflower

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is another perennial to leave in place over winter. The seedheads of this hardy prairie plant feed various birds while lending a little height to the sleeping perennial garden. In spring, use hedge shears or loppers to cut plants to the base, allowing for new growth.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.

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