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  • Writer's pictureKyle Foch

Plant Pruning, Shaping and Training

Updated: Nov 7, 2017

Pruning, shaping and training your plants within your garden has a great influence on the way your trees, shrubs and perennials will grown. These practices are typically used for deadheading flowers, adjusting plant shape or restoring health. Your plants are unlikely to develop and flower the way you desire if pruning practices are not undertaken. There are several means of pruning, shaping and training, but there are two key reasons as to why these actions are taken.


Pruning and training vegetation when it is young can be beneficial to forming the plant’s shape. This strategy prevents alteration when the plant is mature which helps maintain its aesthetics and health. It is best to cut back strong branches lightly and cut back weak shoots hard to stimulate appropriate regrowth. The opposite of this is always assumed to be the best course of action, but can lead to an even more lopsided form. Make sure to get ride of any crossing branches, suckers and diseased wood. Foliage pruning of topiary and the training of espalier are two common types of drastic formative gardening practices.


Deadheading and pruning to promote flowering is a common practice within the garden. Cutting at the correct time and in the correct manner is essential. Some plants flower on old growth while others flower on new growth that was produced that same season. Knowing your plant and the time it blooms is key in achieving the best floral display.

It is important to know your plant's exact variety as some species may contain both old wood and new wood flowering varieties. Ask your designer or nursery to help identify a plant if you are unsure. The worst-case scenario would be that you prune the plant and it doesn’t flower for a year or two. This would typically indicate that it needs old wood to flower.

Plants that flower on old wood are typically pruned following their blooming season. Flower buds will be able to form during the summer and fall in preparation for the next year of spring blooms. However, make sure to do your research before heeding this advise as some plants are finicky. Some examples of old wood blooming plants are:

  • Sumac

  • Dogwood

  • Ninebark

  • Witch Hazel

  • Forsythia

  • Andromeda

  • Flowering Quince

  • Japanese Rose

  • Viburnums

  • Daphne

  • Azaleas

  • Rhododendrons

  • Cherry

  • Weigela

  • Lilac

Plants that flower on new wood are typically pruned in the spring and throughout the summer. Flower buds will form during that growing season and may be continually pruned to support reoccurring flowers. Some examples of new wood blooming plants are:

- Elderberry

- Buttonbush

- Potentilla

- Butterfly Bush

- Bluebeard

- Lavender

- Beautyberry

- Hibiscus

- Smokebush

Plants to watch out for that have varieties which bloom on old growth and new growth are:

- Hydrangeas

- Spirea

- Buddleia

Keep these tips in mind when you want to add a plant to your garden or are looking to reshape an old one. The upkeep of having a garden can be daunting sometimes, but it is the meticulous components of this task that make it an art form. Know your plants, do your research and ask a horticulturalist, landscape architect or landscape designer if you need help.


American Horticultural Society. (2013). Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques: A Step-by-step Guide to Basic Skills Every Gardener Needs.USA, NY: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.

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