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Shrubs and bushes impress in a variety of ways, be it through their flowers, colorful foliage, their growth habit or eye-catching fruits. The demands and characteristics of these plants are very individual. So cutting is an important maintenance measure. It can be necessary for various reasons and should only be carried out at certain times if possible. Depending on the time of flowering and the growth characteristics of the respective plant species, a distinction is made between different cutting types and cutting groups.


Reasons for a cut

In nature, shrubs and bushes are usually left to their own devices and eventually die off. This is part of their natural life cycle. Things are a bit different in the garden, here you neither want to plant new shrubs every few years nor have bare plants. This is exactly why, with a few exceptions, you should subject them to regular pruning.

This serves, among other things, to keep the plants healthy and vital or to stimulate flowering and fruit formation. Other reasons are to maintain a natural or self-controlled growth form or to correct it and to rejuvenate trees that have been neglected for many years, to stimulate new growth or to rebuild them.

Tip: If you do not cut the shrub completely or do not do it regularly, it will grow wild, fewer and fewer flowers will be formed and visible bald spots will accumulate. Uncontrolled growth can take up a lot of space over the years, displacing other plants or depriving them of nutrients and water.


cutting time

Flowering time determines pruning time

The right time for a shrub pruning depends, among other things, on the respective species of wood and the flowering period and varies between spring and summer bloomers. But also the prevailing weather and in particular the lighting conditions decide on the right time to cut.

  • therefore do not cut in the blazing sun, in high heat or frost
  • rainy days unfavorable for a pruning
  • If possible, do not cut on days when the humidity is too high
  • moderate temperatures of 15 to 25 degrees and dry air are ideal
  • Cuts can heal faster this way
  • strong heat and intense sunlight can cause burns
  • Frost on the day of cutting can cause significant damage to the plant

Prune early flowering shrubs/bushes

Spring bloomers such as forsythia, scented jasmine, spirea, Deutzia or double viburnum should always be cut immediately after flowering. Shrubs and bushes that bloom in spring usually bloom on one-year-old wood or last year's shoots. Their flower buds are already formed in the previous year. A pruning immediately after the flowers have faded means that new strong shoots can develop in the current year, which will produce plenty of flowers in the following year. A pruning in the summer would slow down growth.

Forsythia, Forsythia

Pruning summer and autumn flowering shrubs

In contrast to early bloomers, summer flowering shrubs form flowers on the young, this year's shoots. Like autumn-blooming shrubs, they are pruned from late autumn/winter to February/March. This has the advantage that the plants are stimulated to grow. In most cases, the winter dormant period or, in the case of deciduous trees, the leafless period is recommended as the ideal time for pruning. The end of winter should be particularly favorable, even before the spring shoots, when no more severe frosts are to be expected.

Tip: However, a late winter pruning also has a small disadvantage, because the reserve substances that some plants have already created near the new buds are removed with this pruning. This in turn inhibits the formation of new shoots and leads to delayed flowering.

Without pruning

Not always necessary to cut back

Evergreen shrubs and bushes are among the trees that do not need to be trimmed regularly, some even do without trimming at all. In addition, there are species that do not tolerate pruning well and should only be pruned every few years and only to a very small extent. In addition to solitary trees, these include e.g. the magnolia, the service pear, various maples, ornamental quince, tamarisk and tree peonies. In the case of winter flowering plants such as the witch hazel, pruning should be avoided as far as possible.

Magnolia, magnolia


The right technique

  • Trees can be cut back using different cutting techniques
  • Shoots can be cut off close to the ground
  • or cut back to an outward young shoot
  • always place the incision just above an outward-facing eye
  • cut cleanly on astring when removing side shoots
  • leave no butts behind
  • pay attention to clean cutting surfaces
  • working clean promotes wound healing
  • Never cut deciduous shrubs into a semicircular shape
  • they would become very dense and the natural form would be lost

cutting instructions

When pruning bushes and shrubs, a distinction is made between planting, care, maintenance and rejuvenation pruning. The pruning is intended to create a balance between the roots and parts of the plant above ground. It is particularly useful for plants that are offered without a root ball. A care or maintenance cut is used to keep the shrubs in question capable of budding and a rejuvenation cut is intended to encourage old and bare trees to sprout again and grow more compactly. Exactly what should ultimately be trimmed depends on the condition of the plant in question.

plant cutting

Shrubs usually lose part of their roots when transplanted. It is therefore necessary, especially in the case of non-balled or bare-rooted plants, to shorten not only the roots but also the above-ground parts of the shrub. To do this, the old and weak or sickly shoots are first removed and the remaining ones are shortened by about a third. The roots are only slightly shortened and damaged parts are also removed. Such a pruning means that the lower buds sprout better and the bush grows denser. Plant pruning is often done in the tree nursery.

Tip: With container plants, pruning is not as crucial as with bare-rooted plants. Here it is only advisable if they are very squat or too dense.

Trachelospermum jasminoides, star jasmine

education cut

One year after planting, shrubs should be pruned for the first time, unless pruning has been done. This pruning, which practically brings the plant into shape, is called a training pruning. A symmetrical approach is recommended here, which means that all branches or shoots are about the same length. This improves stability and ensures that water and nutrients can be distributed evenly throughout the plant. In the years that followed, it was thinned out and shaped again and again.

Thinning or maintenance cut

This cut is intended to ensure that the vigor and willingness to bloom of the tree in question are retained. It should be carried out regularly.

  • remove the old wood and dead, weak and diseased shoots
  • Also cut off branches that are too close together, crossing or getting in the way
  • Cut out these shoots as close to the ground as possible
  • This allows more light to get inside the bush
  • the inside of the plant is optimally ventilated
  • young shoots get more nutrients
  • conducive to strong and healthy growth
  • Blossom abundance and fruit yield increase

These measures are particularly recommended for berry bushes. In the case of flowering shrubs such as rose marshmallow, butterfly bush or panicle hydrangea, all strong previous year's shoots should be cut back to a few buds, as this is when they usually flower best. In the case of species that keep developing new shoots from below, cut off the oldest ones close to the ground. If bushes are too dense indoors, the foliage can have less time drying out when wet, making the plants more susceptible to disease or pest infestation.

Hibiscus syriacus, garden hibiscus, shrub marshmallow

Tip: If it is not thinned out at all, the plant will age over the years, which is reflected in the number of shoots that are becoming fewer and fewer.


Rejuvenation is usually a radical intervention in which the plants are either set on sticks, i.e. cut back to a hand’s breadth above the ground, or set on a short stump, i.e. cut down to 20-50 cm. Overaged shrubs that have been neglected for years will then sprout more vigorously. This type of pruning is particularly recommended for shrubs that flower on this year's wood.

The oldest branches and twigs that hardly ever bear flowers are removed at the base to make room for young, vital shoots. It is recommended that old wood be removed in sections about every two years. The plants can then be rebuilt from the new shoots. In the case of shrubs that keep pushing new unbranched young shoots both in their middle and near the ground, leave the strongest and shorten them to different heights for better branching.

cutting group

Cut by cut groups

cutting group 1

Pruning group 1 includes shrubs that are less prone to sprouting and whose natural growth tends to be impaired rather than improved by regular pruning measures. Even without major interventions, they develop a loose structure with balanced branching. A cut would not have a positive effect on flowering or growth. Normally it is sufficient to remove only dead wood and possible wild shoots. Despite everything, minor corrections can be made without any problems. This pruning group includes laburnum, plume bush, love pearl bush, spirea, rhododendron and viburnum.

Callicarpa giraldii, love pearl bush

cutting group 2

This pruning group includes fall and summer flowering shrubs that bloom on young, this year's wood. They also tolerate a stronger pruning, but before budding. From about the 4th year they form only a few flowers, the twigs begin to age. These shoots are cut back, either to the base or to a young shoot that has formed in the lower part of the plant. The bushes and shrubs that can be assigned to this pruning group include, for example, the mother-of-pearl shrub, the dwarf deutzia, false jasmine, elderberry, bladderworm and bloodcurrant.

Linnaea amabilis, Kolkwitzia, mother-of-pearl shrub

cutting group 3

Shrubs flowering in spring or early summer are assigned to pruning group 3 and form their flowers on perennial wood. They are cut back vigorously in spring, immediately after flowering. The oldest shoots can either be cut off close to the ground or cut down to a strong young shoot at the apex of older branches. Withered shoots are trimmed. These measures protect the bush from bare and promote the formation of many new shoots that are capable of flowering. The best plant example in this cut group is the gorse.

Genista tinctoria, dyer's broom, dyer's broom

Cutting group 4

What is special about shrubs in pruning group 4 is their leaf decoration and/or the coloring of the bark. They bloom on this year's wood in summer or late summer and can be cut back to about a third of their length in early spring or at the end of winter, although some will partially freeze back in winter anyway. This cut keeps the plants from bare and keeps them flowering. This applies to plants such as garden hibiscus, panicle hydrangea, beard flower, cinquefoil, blue rue or St. John's wort.

Potentilla fruticosa, cinquefoil

shrub pruning

Basics of shrub pruning

Knowledge of the natural growth characteristics and flowering behavior of plants is a prerequisite for the correct pruning of shrubs and bushes. There are a few basic things to consider.

  • Plant pruning should be done at the time of purchase, if possible, in the tree nursery
  • start with maintenance pruning before trees and shrubs have become too large and sprawling
  • If the growth is too dense, cut out whole branches down to the ground
  • It is generally better to make a few large cuts than many small ones
  • Shrubs without new shoots that are native to the soil should not just be cut off at any height
  • the result would be a very unnatural 'growth of brooms', a malformation of the shoots
  • it is better to make a few targeted cuts than to cut around in too many places
  • always remove the shoots or branches to be removed directly at their base
  • Avoid cone formation and thus support wound healing
  • the harder the pruning, the more intense the new growth
Spiraea, Spiraea

Tip: No less important are good, sufficiently sharp cutting tools. You should leave smooth cut surfaces and avoid frayed wound edges and bruises.

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