Glorious spring color only lasts so long before it all comes to an end. This is usually followed by a flush of new vegetative growth, and can be a great time to prune many ornamental shrubs. When it’s all done blooming, it’s time for a pruning on many of our camellias, rhododendron, azaleas, lilacs, and more.

Many times we buy plants and have to prune them to fit their place in the scape. Sometimes these plants have to be reined in drastically every 3-5 years.  When getting ready to prune, take into consideration a few things:

  • The overall height and width of the plant and how it fits into the landscape.
  • Is it growing into nearby plantings?
  • Is it near a house or wall? If so you may need to prune for circulation.
  • Is the height below or above a roofline or interfering with gutters?
  • Are lower branches blocking irrigation heads?

Deadwood & Broken Branches

A great place to start your pruning is with deadwood and broken branches.Then step back and look for crossing branches that might grow into each other if not removed. Visualize removing one branch or the other and choose the one that won’t affect the overall shape in a bad way. Remember: the cuts you make now will be where your new growth will begin to branch out from.

Old vs. New

Look at the old wood vs. new growth (suckers) and think about embracing one or the other for your main veins.  Suckers gone wild can sometimes become a whole new shrub. Lilacs with a “too tall for you” main trunk can be removed, and the new suckers become a whole new plant.

Sometimes you can see, ever so slightly, new growth on the dormant nodes of old wood just waiting to bust out with a new set of leaves. This is common on rhododendron trunks. These can provide a great guide to choose cuts for height control.


Air circulation is key to prevent diseases from settling in on leaves, especially along a house, wall, or fence. Be sure to keep branches 6-12” from touching hardscapes and thin out interior crossing branches and suckers. This is also an effective way to prevent or control black sooty mold on camellias.

After pruning, a good dose of compost tea and/or mulch is a great way to ensure a fresh start. You can find both available at a Lane Forest Products yard near you!

This article was written by Oregon landscaper Heidi Branchesi of Heidi’s Timely Gardening Tips. Read more of Heidi’s Gardening Tips in our Expert Advice section.

2 thoughts on “How & When to Start Pruning

  1. Brook Everett says:

    These days there are so many diseases and pathogens around, you cannot be too careful, so you can avoid them. It is a good idea to keep a quart jar of diluted bleach water or sanitary wipes in you arsenal of pruning tools. By sanitizing your cutting blades in between different plans, you are reducing any chances of spreading pathogens & diseases. I always carry sanitizer wipes and when I am in the greenhouse, I use a watered solution of Clorox bleach. and paper towels.

  2. Heidi says:

    Great tip Brook! In addition to alcohol wipes to sanitize all of my pruning tools, I also keep my favorite “speedy sharp” sharpener handy. A sharp tool gives a nice clean cut.

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