How to Prune a Shrub

Today, we’re going to be talking a little bit about pruning multi-stem shrubs. This becomes a problem to a lot of people. A multi-stem shrub is one that grows from many stems out of the ground. This includes such plants as lilacs, red twig dogwoods, gold twig dogwoods, spireas, forsythia. These all are called multi-stemmed shrubs because they have many shrubs – or manycanes that will grow out from the ground. A lot of times what happens with our multi-stem shrubs is pretty soon they start become taller than we want them to. We’d like to keep them normally at about 4 to 5 feet tall. But as you can see with this red twig dogwood, it’s, well, up to 6-, 7-feet tall. Too tall for this area. We’d like to bring it back down to size, but we’d also like to keep it looking natural. Nobody likes a shrub that’s been given a crewcut. It just doesn’t look pretty. The best thing that we can do is simply find the taller canes – and remove those taller canes right back to the ground every year. This is what is calledrenewalpruning. We’re opening – it accomplishes a couple of things – one thing is that it opens up the shrub to allow more light to penetrate so we’ll will get some new growth. It also lowers the shrubs because we’re removing the older canes. And it just keep it healthier with the air movement and drying out a little bit – and the sun getting back into the shrub itself. What we’ll do, as I have mentioned, is we’ll try to find these taller canes – which are always the older canes. And for instance, this one right here in my hand – we’ll take it right back to the ground. [shrub rustling] We’ll just kind of climb into the canopy here, it’s another fun part of this job – Go as low as we can on that plant with our loppers. And make some cuts on it. [voice goes high with exertion] And if I can’t get quite to the ground, that’s going to be okay, too. I just want to make as good of a – as low of a cut as I can on those. I’m finding some of these other older canes. [heavy snipping] I just continue to cut. [shrub rustling] As a general rule, I normally like to remove – oh – about a quarter of the canes on any given year. Some years, if the shrub has not been pruned lately, you may be removing a few more than that. [heavy lopping] And some years not as many. This shrub has not been pruned for awhile here in the gardens. And so, it’s going to take a little bit of extra pruning [shrub rustling] to get it back down where we want it. This doesn’t damage the plant. It’ll actually rejunvenate it.   A lot of times when we’re pruning, we worry that severe pruning on some of these –   – that we can kill them as we prune them. That’s really not true.     [talking out of breath] These multi-stem shrubs naturally want to send up new shrubs. Now, can you see that it’s starting to lower down a little bit? We’re still keeping the natural shape of it,   because we’re not topping it – or giving it a crewcut. Ahh, it’s still a little bit too tall right here in the middle. [out of breath] [lopping, snipping] [shrub rustling] All right. Now, if we take a look at it, it looks a lot smaller. It’s still got a little bit of height. And I could continue to remove some of these. I think I feel good with it right now. Next year, we may come back in – or we will come back in and remove some of these that are a little bit taller, but it does look a lot smaller. It’s a lot more open. And look at it. It’s still got the natural appearance that we like, especially in these multi-stem shrubs. You can see that we removed a lot of canes, which we were trying to do. And we have brought it down, like we said. But what if, I still wanted it about this full, but I’d like to bringthisdown a little bit smaller? Well, after we’ve cleaned it up, wecancome back in to these taller canes and do what we call somedirectionalpruning. You don’thaveto do this, and a lot of people don’t. But what that is – every time we make a cut, we’re telling that shrub to grow somewhere. we’re telling that shrub to grow somewhere.   And so what we’re going to do is we see that this is too tall here, so we’ll come down to a smaller branch, I’ll make a directional cut. [snip] And now what I’ve done is I’ve told this plant to grow this way. I’m not going to automatically go and give it like a said – a crewcut – I’m actuallydirectinggrowth and keeping the natural appearance to it. So, I can come back in here and just do a little bit of directional pruning. [snip, snip] And you can see by just a couple of selective cuts, I can really lower that shrub back down [snip, snip] to the size we’d like it It looks natural. Look at that, about right where I am, 5 to 6 foot tall. Still a natural. As soon as this thing leafs out, you won’t even be able to tell you pruned it. It’ll still be thick and full. And happy. And we like happy shrubs.


  1. Rather than continually pruning a shrub to fit the desired height, it makes more sense to select and plant a shrub that fits the desired height.

  2. Bigfoot sighting @ 1:19. Also, can you prune back to the ground during early Summer, or do I need to wait until Autumn? A neighbor told me I can prune flowering shrubs after they drop their blossoms. Thanks

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