How to Prune an Evergreen

Find out when and how to prune your evergreens.

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Anything Is Possible

Whether you prefer a tightly manicured landscape or just need to rein in an overgrown shrub, you can make it happen if you know when and how to properly prune evergreen trees and shrubs.

Non-Flowering Hedges

Hedges, when flowering is not a consideration, may be pruned through most of the growing season. Prune them as needed from a month or so prior to the last spring frost, until a month or so prior to the first frost of fall. Pruning late in summer or fall can stimulate new growth that is easily damaged by cold weather.

Broad Leafed Flowering Evergreens

Flowering evergreens have to be considered for both timing of new growth and production of flowers. The best pruning strategies for flowering evergreens include: 1. Purchase and plant with the mature size in mind. This will minimize the need to prune on a regular basis. 2. Because most of these shrubs bloom primarily on "old wood," or the prior year's growth, prune as needed in spring or early summer. This will allow the plant to produce the wood that will include next year's blooms for the remainder of the season. 3. Spring bloomers, like rhododendrons, should be pruned when the bloom cycle is finished. 4. Fall bloomers, like Camellia sasanqua, should be pruned as early in spring as is possible. 5. Repeat bloomers, like re-blooming azaleas, should be pruned after their first bloom cycle of the season.


Hedges may be kept with a natural look, or they can be kept very "tight." Plant selection plays its role in maintaining the appearance you prefer. Technique and timing are important as well. Simply shearing the hedge regularly will lead to a very thin layer of dense foliage that is easily damaged. Periodically thinning the outer foliage by removing older, thicker branches will allow light and air to penetrate into the canopy, leading to deeper, healthier foliage.


Pruning evergreen trees, in emergency situations, can be done any time of year with little threat to the tree, however avoiding late summer and fall is the best practice when possible. Normally trees are pruned to remove dead or damaged branches, which should be cut back to their points of origin. Cut back to the swollen branch collar, which will heal over the cut. Never cut flush to the trunk.

Cane Plants

Some evergreen plants, like the mahonias and nandinas, do not grow like other trees or shrubs. As these "cane plants" mature, the foliage is held at the tips of the canes, creating an umbrella like look in un-pruned older plants. Create density in these plants by selecting a third of the oldest canes and removing them at ground-level in the spring. This practice stimulates new cane formation, which will stagger the cane tips at different heights, giving a much fuller, more balanced look to the plant.

Renewal of Broadleaf Evergreens

A major difference between broadleaf evergreens and conifers is the ability to sucker. Broadleafs do, conifers don't. Use this to your advantage when you find your hollies or boxwoods have outgrown their boundaries. In late winter, you may cut an established broadleaf evergreen to the ground, and it will gradually refill its location by sending up new shoots. Pinch back the tips as they grow to stimulate lateral branching and fullness. 

Grooming Conifers

Keeping conifers well shaped entails shearing and thinning. When thinning the foliage, be sure that cuts into hardened (brown) wood are hidden beneath the foliage. Once the stems turn brown, they may not be able to produce new foliage or branches. Soft, flexible green branch tips are fine to shear in order to maintain size and shape. Topiaries like these require pruning every few weeks during the growing season to stay tidy.

Hedge and Shrub Shears

Shears are used to redefine the contour of shrubs. They easily slice through thin branches and are best used on green wood and young shoots.

Bypass Pruners

Hand-held pruners are useful for cutting isolated branches up to about a half inch thick. Use them for detailed work like thinning before or finishing up after shearing.


Loppers are great for removing branches from a half inch to an inch and a half thick. Use them for thinning or removing isolated large branches.

Pole Pruner

Pole pruners help to keep you safely on the ground while pruning high branches. Most models offer a lopper and saw combination head, and are useful for removing branches up to three or four inches thick up to twelve feet or more off the ground.

Disinfect Blades Between Plants

Disinfecting cutting tools between cuts will significantly reduce the spread of diseases from plant to plant. Use bathroom disinfectant or even disinfecting mouthwash. Stay away from bleach and alcohol as they can lead to corroded tools.

A Well Maintained Landscape

Properly pruned evergreens are an integral part of a well maintained landscape. Keep your tools clean and sharp, and use them often.

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