When to cut back shrubs - the importance of choosing the right time to trim your garden bushes

Timing is everything

Exterior of a timber clad, oak framed house with lawn and flower beds. A new build oak framed two bedroom house in the New Forest in Hampshire, home of Elizabeth and Derek Sandeman
(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

Knowing when to cut back shrubs is essential for a thriving, yet neat garden. Shrubs offer the ground cover many people are looking for when trying to create a full and lush garden. And with so many shrub varieties to choose from, you’re bound to find one that fits the bill. 

From flowering shrubs to shrubs that focus on foliage, these perennial woody plants can increase kerb appeal and even add some colour and depth to your small garden. But if you want to make the most of these plants, you need to make sure that you’re cutting them back.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, pruning shrubs can not only improve the size and shape but can also keep the plant in a healthy condition, allowing it to produce more vibrant flowers and even tastier berries. But when should you do it?

When to cut back shrubs

‘The ideal time to cut back different types of shrubs really does vary depending on their individual flowering habits,’ explains Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench. So, we decided to break this information down to ensure you’re cutting back the shrubs in your garden at the right time. 

When to cut back evergreen shrubs

Boxwood bushes infront of door

(Image credit: Future PLC / Ben Anders)

If you’ve filled your garden borders with the likes of holly, yew, or boxwood, you’ll know the advantages of having evergreen shrubs in your garden. Perfect for all-year-round colour and luscious foliage, they’ll keep their green colour throughout the year, even when other shrubs have lost their leaves and flowers. 

However, they still need to be cut back once a year to control their shape, overall health, and their density. Steve suggests doing this in early spring, just before the growing season. 

But if you feel like your evergreen shrub is getting out of hand and growing too fast during the growing season, he also explains that you can still prune it during this time. It just needs to be a very light prune to avoid damaging the shrub in the process. 

When to cut back deciduous shrubs

Cornus shrub in front of hedges

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Deciduous shrubs are ones that lose their leaves each year, usually towards the end of the summer season and at the start of Autumn,’ explains Calum Maddock, gardening expert at HomeHow.co.uk. ‘This allows them to keep the food reserves in their roots during the winter, meaning they can survive the cold winter.’ 

Because of this, cutting them back at the wrong time could ultimately affect their growth the next year. That’s why you should always aim to cut back deciduous shrubs in late winter or early spring - before any new growth starts to emerge. 

In fact, Monty Don pruning tips suggest this is a job you should complete before the end of March each year, especially if you have popular deciduous shrubs such as Cornus, willow or Sambucus in your garden.

When to cut back spring-flowering shrubs

rhododendrons in garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Spring-flowering shrubs are a welcome sign that spring has sprung and that the weather is getting warmer, and there’s no doubt that plants such as azalea, forsythia, rhododendron and lilac can add beautiful blooms and fragrant smells to your garden.

But while we know when to prune rhododendrons, do the rules change with other spring-flowering shrubs? Thankfully, they stay the same. 

Steve says, ‘These shrubs bloom on old wood, meaning the flower buds develop in the previous year. Pruning them immediately after they finish blooming, typically in late spring or early summer. This allows for new growth and bud development throughout the summer.’

When to cut back summer-flowering shrubs

A close-up shot of the purple flowers of a buddleja bush

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although spring-flowering shrubs bloom on old wood, the same can’t be said for the summer-flowering plants that brighten up your garden during the height of the summer. Instead, summer dwellers such as hydrangeas, potentilla, and butterfly bush grow on new wood. This means the best time to prune buddleia and other summer-flowering shrubs in early spring. 

‘This means that they develop flowers on the current season’s growth,’ says Steve. ‘To encourage robust flowering, I recommend pruning them in early spring before new growth begins.’ 

In most cases, you’ll almost always benefit from deadheading your summer-flowering shrubs when you see that the blooms have stopped blooming. For example, it’s a great idea to deadhead hydrangeas when the flowers have faded and before you prune your hydrangeas

How to cut back shrubs

How you cut back shrubs depends on the type of shrubs you have in your garden. But there are some general rules and guidance that apply to all of them, and we’ve outlined them all below. 

Garden filled with potted plants, set on a patio against wood panelled walls

(Image credit: Future PLC)

What you’ll need

  • Established shrubs
  • Sharp pruning shears
  • Gardening gloves


1. Choose the right time for your shrub

If you’re considering cutting back shrubs, it’s of paramount importance that you choose the right time to do so. Pruning shrubs at the wrong time can be detrimental to the health and the future growth of a plant, and you could even kill your shrub in the process. To reiterate, this is when you should cut back the different types of shrubs:

Evergreen shrubs: Early spring. 

Deciduous shrubs: Late winter or early spring.

Spring-flowering shrubs: Late spring or early summer. 

Summer-flowering shrubs: Early spring.

2. Cut dead or damaged branches

When you’ve decided on the right time to cut back your shrub, you can then get started. To do this, you’ll need to use sharp, clean pruning shears. But where do you start?

If you’re unsure about pruning a shrub, it’s always best to focus on the needs of a plant. This means that you need to cut back any dead, diseased or damaged branches to ensure that your plant uses its energy on the healthy branches that really need it. 

When cutting off these branches, Steve suggests, ‘cut above a healthy bud or at a branch junction, starting at the base.’ It’s also a good idea to cut back any branches that are crossing over each other, too.

3. Reduce the size

Of course, you can stop there if you like. Cutting off these dead and damaged branches will be enough to ensure your plant is healthy for next year’s growth, but they will tolerate even more pruning if you want to reduce the size of your shrubs.

‘To do this, remove branches by cutting them back to the desired length. Make sure that you still cut above a healthy bud or junction, but this time, make sure that it is cut at an angle of around 45 degrees, away from the bud, so that outward growth is encouraged,’ explains Steve. 

Then, you can prune any leaves to change the shape of your shrub, too. Just be careful you don’t prune too hard. 


What month is best to trim shrubs?

This will depend entirely on the type of shrubs you have. If you want to trim evergreen or summer-flowering shrubs, you should do this in early spring before they start growing. For deciduous shrubs, you should prune them in late winter or early spring, and for spring-flowering shrubs, they will benefit from a late spring or early summer prune. 

How do you prune overgrown shrubs UK?

When pruning overgrown shrubs, you first need to consider the health of the plant. The last thing you want is for your shrubs to give too much unnecessary energy to dead, damaged, or diseased branches. So, you need to make sure that you cut these first. 

When you’ve done that, you can focus on the shape and the size, ensuring that you cut above a healthy bud or junction. However, it’s important that you do this at the right size, as pruning shrubs at the wrong time could be detrimental to their health. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.