What You Should Be Pruning in Early Summer

Grab your pruners — early summer is the time to snip and clip all kinds of plants.

‘Madame Lemoine’ Lilac

White Lilac

A striking heirloom lilac, ‘Madame Lemoine’ was bred near Nancy, France, by the famous lilac breeder Lemoine. He named this beauty after his wife. Strongly fragrant double white blooms grace this lilac in late spring to early summer. Flower buds are cream and open to pure white. This French hybrid lilac grows 8 to 15 feet tall and up to 15 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.

Photo by: BaileyNurseries.com


Pruning is the one activity that’s an equal opportunity terror for gardeners. Many otherwise successful green thumbs experience pruning paralysis. The stakes are high — one wrong cut and you fear wiping out next year’s flowers. While this can happen, it’s really not that dire. Timing is everything. Master that, and you can tackle pruning with ease. Take the fear out of pruning by reviewing what you should be pruning in early summer.

Spring Blooming Shrubs

Prune shrubs that flower before mid-June after they flower. For these spring-blooming beauties, remove the largest stems, cutting them back to the ground. This causes the plant to push out new growth from both the crown and all remaining stems. Prune any other stems to shorten or shape the shrub. Use hand pruners or loppers for this job, not hedge shears.

Shrubs to prune in early summer: lilac, azalea, forsythia, Japanese kerria, weigela, deutzia, mockorange, St. John's wort, viburnums and the colorful redtwig and yellowtwig dogwoods.

One exception to this rule is ninebark (Physocarpus). You can cut every stem on this gem back to the ground each spring if what you want is the coppery new growth. This pruning method helps to control plant height and size. Or, if you want to savor ninebark’s pretty white blooms, wait and use the same pruning method after it flowers.

Tall Black-Eyed Susan

‘Herbstonne’ Rudbeckia

'Herbstonne' rudbeckia hold their own in the summer garden.

Photo by: BaileyNurseries.com


'Herbstonne' rudbeckia hold their own in the summer garden.

Tall Summer Perennials

Keep the height of tall summer-flowering perennials in scale with other plantings by removing up to one-third of stem height by mid- to late June. Cutting back these plants does delay flowering, so keep that in mind. It also causes plants to branch and become bushier, which means you’ll have more flowers in the end.

Perennials to prune in early summer: joe-pye weed (Eutrochium), tall coneflower (Rudbeckia ‘Herbstonne’), bee balm (Monarda), catmint (Nepeta), yarrow (Achillea), balloon flower (Platycodon), Culver’s root (Veronicastrum), Veronica and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).

Fall Perennials Aster Russian Sage

‘Purple Dome’ New England Aster

Welcome fall with the beautiful blooms of an autumn classic: New England aster.

Photo by: PerennialResource.com


Welcome fall with the beautiful blooms of an autumn classic: New England aster.

Fall Color

With fall flowering perennials, early summer pruning helps reduce plant height at flowering, which can prevent flopping and the need for staking. Wrap up this pruning by July 4 in regions with October frost dates (sooner in colder zones).

Fall perennials to prune in early summer: asters, Russian sage, garden mums, helenium, turtlehead (Chelone), boltonia, tall sedums and monkshood (Aconitum).

‘Tidy Rose’ Beefsteak Tomato

Tomatoes On The Vine

To help with disease control later in the summer, remove all leaves and shoots below the first flower cluster on established tomato plants.

Photo by: Ball Horticultural Company

Ball Horticultural Company

To help with disease control later in the summer, remove all leaves and shoots below the first flower cluster on established tomato plants.

Edibles & Herbs

Don’t overlook your edible crops while you have pruners in hand. Cut back chive plants after flowering—you can cut these back to stubs and the plant will resprout. Keep an eye on basil. It shouldn’t set flowers this early, but sometimes it tries. Pinch off flower shoots as soon as you see them. Snip back thyme stems after bloom, cutting to just below the lowest flower. Timing on this herb may slide into July. With cilantro, plants start to bolt (flower) as warm weather arrives. You can harvest cilantro seed (the seed of the cilantro plant is called coriander), or let a few plants self-sow and drop seed. You’ll be rewarded with a semi-perennial patch of cilantro. On established tomato plants, remove all leaves and shoots below the first flower cluster. This helps with disease control later in summer.

Edibles to prune in early summer: Chives, cilantro, basil, thyme, tomato.

Next Up

What to Prune in Late Fall

To prune or not to prune? Get answers to your late-year pruning questions.

Late Winter and Early Spring Pruning Guide

Get ready for late winter and early spring pruning chores.

How to Prune a Tree

Pruning trees doesn't have to be a daunting process. Learn how to safely, quickly and easily prune the trees in your yard.

How to Protect Plants From Frost

Protect shrubs, flower and vegetable beds from frosts and freezes with these pro tips and garden hacks.

Lantana Care: Growing and Pruning Lantana

Add easy-care beauty to your yard by growing lantana—you won’t be disappointed.

How Far Apart Should Tomatoes Be Planted?

Tomato plant spacing depends on a few factors, including the variety type and the type of garden. Follow our advice and you'll be spacing for success.

The Best Inflatable Pools for Everyone in 2024

Make a splash this summer with the best inflatable pools for babies, kids, adults and even dogs.

The Best Portable Cooling Fans of 2024

Check out our top picks, from large towers to handheld fans.

This Mini Fan From Amazon Is a Must-Have for Summer

Have your coolest summer ever with this personal fan that goes everywhere you do.

When to Prune Hydrangeas: Expert Tips

To know when to cut back hydrangeas, you'll need to know the varieties of hydrangeas in your garden.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.