How to Prune Plants for Colorful Winter Stems

Dogwoods, willows and ornamental brambles are prized for their colorful winter stems. Prune these plants annually for a beautiful display.

Dogwood Shrub

Dogwood Shrub

This deciduous shrub has bright red leaves in fall and even more vibrant red stems in winter.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

This deciduous shrub has bright red leaves in fall and even more vibrant red stems in winter.

Related To:

Materials Needed

  • pruners

Step 1: Cut Old Stems

Cut Out Old Stray Stems Using Pruners

Cut Out Old Stray Stems Using Pruners

To encourage growth, cut back old stems in late winter, before new leaves appear. Make cuts as needed to maintain the shape of the bush. Try to stay true to its natural growth pattern, but prune branches that rub against or cross each other.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Just before growth begins in early to mid-spring, cut out old, stray stems using pruners to give the plant some shape.

Step 2: Cut Back Main Stems

Cut Away Shoots Toward Main Stem to Gain Access

Cut Away Shoots Toward Main Stem to Gain Access

Cut back to the main branch or stem of the bush. If double leaders are competing for space, pick one and remove it. This will help reduce the density of the bush and train the shape.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Cut away last year's shoots and all non-woody growth to within 3 inches (7.5 cm) of the main stems to get better access to the center of the plant.

Step 3: Cut Back Shoots

Cut Back Hard All Shoots From Base of Plant

Cut Back Hard All Shoots From Base of Plant

Cut back all shoots from the base of the plant, cutting just above the part where side stems join main stem.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Once you have clear access to the main stems, cut back hard all shoots to 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) from the base of the plant, cutting just above the join with the main stems.

Step 4: Feed Plants

Final Hard Prune and Add Good Mulch to Roots

Final Hard Prune and Add Good Mulch to Roots

After pruning, feed plants with fertilizer, and mulch the area around the roots with compost or well rotted manure.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Once you have finished pruning, feed plants with fertilizer, and give the area around their roots a good mulch with compost or well-rotted manure.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Prune Shrubs

When you prune a shrub depends mostly on when it blooms. Here are the basics of pruning woody plants.

How to Prune Late-Flowering Shrubs

Shrubs that arrive a bit late to the blooming game should be trimmed in early spring. Follow these simple steps to inspire new blossoms.

How to Plant an Herb Container Garden

Herbs have been grown all over the world for centuries for their flavor and healthful benefits. Learn how to plant an herb container garden.

How to Plant a Cactus Container Garden

Yee-haw! Turn a container into a desert landscape by filling it with prickly cacti and other succulent plants. 

How to Plant Perennials

Learn how to grow perennials in your garden with this step-by-step planting guide.

How to Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

Get your lawn in shape to cope with winter by giving it a little TLC in the fall.

How to Grow Zucchini Plants

Zucchinis are a winner for being one of the quickest — and easiest — members of the squash family to grow.

How to Grow Pineapple Plants

Learn how to grow a pineapple plant in your yard or in a pot.

How to Plant and Grow Persimmons

Experts pick their best tips on how to achieve persimmon perfection.

How to Plant Evergreens in Containers

Learn how to properly plant evergreens in containers to keep color alive in your garden all year around.