6 plants to prune in spring – cut back these shrubs, perennials, and grasses as part of your seasonal do-to list

It is time to dust off the pruning shears and head outside to prune these desirable plants

Pruning shears and loppers on branches from a smoke bush and dogwood
(Image credit: Getty Images/Gail Shotlander)

Spring is a wonderful time to prune a lot of trees, shrubs, and perennial plants in your backyard. After the cold winter months, most gardeners will revel in the fact they can get outside in spring and give plants a trim and tidy.

Knowing which plants to prune in spring offers many benefits. Taking the pruning shears out allows you to shape and control shrubs and tidy up perennials in flower beds and borders. Pruning also means plants remain healthy and will put on a fantastic display of flowers over the coming season.

While lots of plants will benefit from spring pruning, not all will. To help you make decisions about what to trim this spring, and avoid making any pruning mistakes, we take a close look at some groups of plants that should be on your to-do list over the coming months.

Woman pruning in spring with pruning shears

(Image credit: Getty Images/amriphoto)

Spring pruning – the right tools for the job 

It should only require a small number of common garden tools to complete most pruning jobs in spring. 

A pair of pruning shears should do most of the work, while loppers can be used for thicker branches and garden shears can offer the advantage of a quick chop of perennials. A pruning saw also may be useful if you are doing any tree pruning in spring.

Always ensure that your cutting tools are clean and sharp before doing any pruning. It means pruning will be easier and plants will not be left susceptible to pests and diseases as a result of jagged and dirty cuts.

1. Summer-flowering shrubs

Butterfly bush bloom

(Image credit: Getty/Jacky Parker Photography)

Shrubs that flower in summer benefit from being pruned in spring. They usually flower on the new season’s growth, so trimming in early-to-mid spring encourages the production of stems to carry this year’s flowers. 

Pruning in spring, just before the shrub is set to start actively growing again, gives the plant lots of time to develop strong and healthy new growth - and a fantastic display of blooms will reward you come summer. 

Summer-flowering shrubs that should be trimmed in spring include some hugely popular favorites that are commonplace in many backyard ideas. This includes the likes of butterfly bush, hardy fuchsia, spirea, perovskia, hibiscus, cotinus, crepe myrtle, potentilla, and caryopteris.

2. Woody herbs


(Image credit: DuKai photographer via Getty Images)

Without regular pruning, some popular herbs can start to become straggly and leggy. Not only can this make your herb garden look less-than-desirable, as plants start to blend or even struggle to keep themselves upright, but the older woody parts of the plants become unproductive. 

Once the frosts finish for your US hardiness zone and the milder temperatures of spring arrive, such woody herbs will benefit from a little bit of attention. Wait until you see the first new growth forming on the plants to head out with your pruning shears to give them a trim. 

Annual pruning in spring can tidy up any herb garden, herb planter or container. Classic herbs that will benefit from being pruned in spring include lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and artemisia.

3. Herbaceous perennials

Echinops, blue

(Image credit: Alamy)

There is often a debate to be had among gardeners about the best time to cut back herbaceous perennials. 

A lot of people will prune them as part of their fall gardening checklist, preferring a tidier space. However, there are lots of benefits to leaving plants in place as part of a winter garden. The leaves, stems and dried seedheads can provide habitat and food to many insects and birds as part of wildlife garden ideas

Any perennials that were not cut back in fall should be cleared in spring. Removing the old material spruces up the garden and allows new growth to come through unobstructed for the season. 

Herbaceous perennials that can be left overwinter to cut down in spring include sedum, aster, black-eyed susan, heuchera, echinops, digitalis, hardy geranium, and penstemon.

4. Spring-flowering shrubs

weigela flowering

(Image credit: Federica Grassi / Moment / Getty Images)

Shrubs that flower annually in late winter and early spring benefit from pruning just after their flowers fade for the year. 

These flowering shrubs often bloom on wood produced the previous year, so cutting them back after flowering gives lots of time for growth to develop that will carry next year’s flowers. 

By pruning these early flowers after blooming each spring, it keeps them healthy and highly productive. So spring is the right time to remove dead, diseased, damaged stems, weak branches, stems going in unwanted directions, and gently shape the shrub. 

Spring flowering shrubs that fit into this group include lonicera, forsythia, weigelia, witch hazel, kerria, flowering currants and lilacs.

5. Deciduous grasses

fountain grass

(Image credit: Steffen Hauser / botanikfoto / Alamy Stock Photo)

Deciduous ornamental grasses can be left over winter to sway in the wind and look beautiful tinged with a frost, while their seed heads are beneficial to wildlife. However, come spring they can start to look a bit ragged and do need to be cut back at the start of each season. You want to do this after the risk of frosts, but before the new shoots start to emerge from the base. 

It is really simple to cut back ornamental grasses. Simply gather together all of the stems and foliage and cut the whole clump back to around 6-12 inches from the ground - just take care not to damage the crown of the grass. 

Deciduous grasses that should be cut back in spring include miscanthus, fountain grass, feather reed grass, and panic grass.

6. Roses and hydrangeas – but not all

Yellow roses in bloom

(Image credit: Simon McGill)

Two hugely popular shrubs do benefit from pruning in spring, namely roses and hydrangeas. However, not all types of these two favorites want to be trimmed - so make sure to know the type before making a big rose pruning mistake or hydrangea pruning mistake and prune the wrong type in spring. 

When pruning roses, shrub or bush roses are best cut back in spring while rambling and climbing roses are not. In terms of hydrangeas, mophead and lacecaps are pruned in spring, while climbing types are pruned in summer. 

While pruning roses and pruning hydrangeas are important tasks for any spring gardening checklist, it is vital to know the types of plants before heading out and cutting. 


When should I start cutting back in spring? 

Try to wait until the risk of frost has passed before starting to cut back many plants. Pruning during frozen temperatures, or if hard frosts are predicted for the following days, can cause damage to plants as frosts can penetrate the fresh cuts caused by pruning. 

Pruning is going to play a big role in preparing a garden for spring for many homeowners. Planting, planning, and prepping the soil for the season ahead are also important spring garden tasks that should be added to any to-do list.

Drew Swainston
Content Editor

Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialise as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted in the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.