In order to keep your yard looking its best, aside from basic lawn care, you also need to learn how to trim, prune, and shape your shrubs and bushes. Shrubs and hedges need trimming in order to keep them strong, healthy, and looking good. But learning how to carefully shape and trim them may seem like a very time-consuming and tedious task. There are many reasons to focus your attention on shrubs and hedges since lack of attention to shrubbery can quickly make your yard look unkempt. This guide will discuss basic techniques that you can try, that will quickly whip your yard into shape, as long as you have the right tools, the time, and some patience.

Pruning Needs

There’s a lot more to a good-looking yard than just your basic lawn maintenance. This is especially true if you have plenty of shrubs and bushes in your yard. If you don’t know much about the type of plant life you’re growing, then this can have an impact on whether or not they thrive, since many of these plants must be pruned and trimmed during a certain time of year in order to encourage flowering, new growth, or both.

But there are many reasons you need to prune your hedges and bushes. The first reason is to shape the plant in order to keep it looking neat. Pruning also encourages flowering. In many cases, people will prune to keep a formal, neat look. Other times, pruning is needed to prevent the plant from blocking the sun from neighboring plants or to prevent the hedge from blocking a window. But pruning can also help to encourage new growth, especially if you’re dealing with an older plant that’s no longer growing well. For some, pruning is an art form. But it can also be a science. The science aspect is all about understanding the plant and how it grows. In terms of art, it’s all about how the plant responds to the pruning and the complex or simple shape you give it in order to complement your yard.

A good pruning job should be essentially invisible. But how can you ensure that you’re helping and not hurting your hedges when you begin to chop off branches?

Before you get started it’s important to learn a little about the hedges and bushes you have, so you can learn about the appropriate pruning regimen. Make sure that you have a plan concerning what you want your yard to look like. Next, if you have the best hedge shears, make sure you sharpen them before use. when you’re pruning, sharp tools are a must. Dull hedge shears will create a jagged cut, which will make the plants prone to decay.

Tools for the Job


Choosing the perfect tool for this job ensures that you make clean cuts that keep the plant healthy and looking good. There are many different types of tools you can use. Pruning shears are perfect for branches that are between a quarter of an inch or half an inch in diameter. Cordless pole saws are also good for cutting wider branches in the tree crown where other tools won’t reach.

Lopping shears are designed to handle branches that are one and a half inches in diameter. For smaller cuts, you’ll want to use loppers or bypass-style clippers. This means that the blades slide beside each other and overlap when they cut. The anvil-style clippers involve a blade that fits into a groove, but these aren’t recommended since they’re prone to pinching. However, they can come in handy if you want to cut away an entire branch and you don’t have hand clippers.

Pruning saws are a good idea if you have overgrown hedges or you need to cut anything that’s an inch in diameter. This type of saw features rough teeth that cut on the pull stroke for safety and feature rough teeth that will prevent gumming.

Hedge shears, either long-bladed hand shears or the powered kind, should not be used for pruning the branches and should instead be relied on to shape the hedges or bushes.

Bush Trimming

Trimming bushes should be done in the early spring or late winter, right before new growth pops up. Never prune after new growth has taken hold, typically mid-summer. This is the wrong time to prune.

Trimming Hedges and Flowering Bushes

Whether or not the plant flowers is an important factor since different flowering shrubs tend to look much better when they’re pruned before flowering, while other plants, such as lilacs, will look much better when they flower naturally and are pruned after.

Many common types of flowering shrubs and trees should be pruned before new growth begins. Shrubs that flower in the spring should be pruned after they flower since the flower buds have been produced the past year, so it’s not considered new spring growth. The only way you can determine which type of shrub you’ve got is to wait and see when it flowers.

For most flowering plants, you should prune in late winter, before the plant’s new growth starts in the spring. The goal here is to prune the flowering shrubs in a manner that will negatively impact blooming, which will all be dependent on when the plants bloom.

When it comes to pruning evergreen and deciduous shrubs, the type of technique to use will depend on the plant’s condition and growth habits. Buds that are on a pruned plant will be exposed to more sun, which will encourage new growth that results in fruit, flowers, and larger leaves.



If you have full hedges or thick leafy bushes to trim, then using gas hedge trimmers is the best tool to use to keep your hedges looking trimmed and neat.

When shaping, the first step will be to vertically cut the sides of the hedge, using an arc-shaped movement. When you cut the top of the hedge, the trimmer should be used in an almost horizontal position, with a very slight angle used toward the direction of the cut. This will give you more control over each cut, so you can cut more efficiently and precisely.

Cut Types

The type of cut you use will depend on the type of shrub or hedge you have, what tools you’re using, and the condition of the plant.


When you thin a hedge you’re removing any kind of undesired growth, getting rid of any unwanted branches. Unlike shearing or heading cuts, thinning will not stimulate new growth.


This type of cut is made on a branch in order to encourage new growth. This cut will bring back a stem that will grow new side branches right behind the cut from dormant, existing buds. When you prune shrubs using a heading cut it will keep them at the perfect height for your landscape. However, you should avoid cutting more than a quarter of the height. You should also prune younger plants during their first year within one foot of the ground. This will shorten stems and encourage new growth.


This type of cut is made in order to shape a bush or hedge without cutting back the branch to the bud. Most plants that are chosen for this type of cut have many buds that are close together, so the cuts will typically end up close to a bud anyway, encouraging new growth.

Bigger Cuts

Removing branches that are larger than one inch in diameter will require the three-cut technique. This method eliminates the branches’ weight before you make the last cut in order to prevent tearing. First, you’ll make a very small cut close to the bottom of the branch, two to three inches from the collar of the branch. Next, you’ll cut from the top down, right outside the initial cut, which will complete the cut and remove the branch. The last cut should be up against the collar’s branch, in order to provide a cleaner cut near the trunk that won’t break or tear from the weight of the branch.

Deciduous Shrub Trimming

Trimming this type of shrub will involve removing damaged or dead branches as you lightly shape any stems in order to encourage growth. The type of tools you’ll need for this job will depend on the size of the branches.

Start off by identifying any damaged or dead wood. Using your shears, cut using a forty-five-degree angle right above the branches’ collar. This ridge is located at the junction of the main trunk and branch. This area will quickly heal and is the perfect place to cut back a whole branch for removal.

Next, look for any branches that are rubbing together. These are the branches that will usually cause open wounds to the branches as they rub together. Make sure you use a forty-five-degree angle when you cut the branch at the collar. This will discourage any new growth from popping up in the same area.

Shaping Evergreen Shrubs

This type of shrub doesn’t require much trimming or upkeep. The narrow leaf and broadleaf evergreens should only be purchased if you’re aware of how large they can grow once they’ve matured. Trying to keep them at a certain height can become a constant project and can result in seriously harming the plant in the end. Many types of flowering broadleaf shrubs will benefit from deadheading or light trimming right after they flower. If you simply remove any spent blooms then the shrubs should abundantly bloom and be much fuller.

To do, you’ll grab the branch right below the flowering section. Then, use your fingers in order to remove the faded flower truss off the branch. Make sure you avoid damaging any new shoots or vegetative buds that are directly below the flowers. If the branch doesn’t snap easily, then use a pair of hedge shears, which will help to prevent damage.

Shaping Narrow-Leaf Evergreen Shrubs

These shrubs don’t perform well with heavy pruning or frequent trimming. The foliage will become much thicker on the outside edges, the more you trim. Which can prevent light from penetrating to the middle of the plant. If your shrub doesn’t have any needles on the inside, this is why. This can also significantly reduce the life of your shrubbery. So, keep your trimming to a minimum and make sure that you follow the plant’s natural lines.

To do, you’ll start at the top of the shrub, working your way down. The whole point of this is to open up the plant in order to keep air filtering and light through all of the levels.

Next, you’ll identify any longer branches that reach beyond the shrub’s natural shape. You’ll prune these at a forty-five-degree angle within half an inch of any lateral branches. Any shrubs that are along porches or walkways can be trimmed back, however, make sure you cut the branches at different lengths in order to mimic its natural shape.

Cutting Dos and Don’ts


  • Always make a few large cuts, not several small ones.
  • Prune just above a healthy bud, with the bud pointing in the direction that you want to hedge to grow. Make sure you cut at a forty-five-degree angle.
  • When cutting off a branch, make sure you leave a collar.
  • Always cut at the right time of year, typically early spring or late winter.
  • Never stub a plant by cutting off the top. This will only encourage several replacement branches to take its place.
  • When cutting, never cut the branch flush with the trunk
  • Never cut more than a quarter of the plant’s height each season.
  • The most common mistake is not pruning during the correct pruning period or cutting too much off a plant. You need to be careful when you’re cutting and ensure that there are still some dormant buds left below the cut, which will allow a plant to recover. Sometimes, when a person cuts into old wood it won’t grow back because it was cut below the dormant buds where new growth would normally pop up.


This is the art of carefully trimming hedges and shrubs into decorative shapes. If you’ve ever seen a shrub that’s been trimmed into a ball or a hedge that’s sculpted into the shape of an animal, this is topiary. Topiary can be practiced on both indoor and outdoor plants. With outdoor topiary, you can use plants that grow in large pots and other types of containers, as well as shrubs and bushes that are directly planted into the ground. Plants that keep their leaves for a year or more are the best plants to use.

There are many types of tools you can use to shape shrubs, but most pros recommend using a gas-powered hedge trimmer. The trimmers will be used to cut away the bulk of the bush at the beginning of a project, as well as to remove new growth on larger bushes.

Aside from a hedge trimmer, you’ll also need to use hedge shears for the smaller cuts.

Getting Started

Before you get started, consider the time of year. Most pros recommend beginning this type of project in the early summer because you’ll avoid morning frosts that can potentially damage branches, you won’t interrupt the plant’s spring growth, and you’ll be less likely to cut growth that has begun hardening off. Pruning on a cloudy day or late in the day is also recommended since intense sunlight can scorch freshly cut growth.

Once you’ve made any rough cuts with hedge shears or a hedge trimmer, you can start working toward the type of shape you have in mind. Some of the most common shapes include:

  • Spirals
  • Balls
  • Cones

Cone-Shaped Designs

The cone-shaped design is a great choice for beginners. It’s a great choice for plants that have plenty of irregular branching stems. In order to create this shape, you’ll begin with your trimmer or shears at the top and then make angled cuts downward so that the base is much wider than the top of the plant. If the plant is very tall, then you can lean a broom or pole against it and use it as a guide of sorts. Each pole should be nestled within the branches until it’s leaned at the right angle. Make sure you take a break from time to time and keep an eye on your progress to ensure that the plant has the correct angle on all sides.


A ball shape is a great choice for plants that have a lot of branches. It’s also a good choice for plants with a single stem that’s easy to find. If you choose the ball on top shape, instead of a sphere, then I recommend pruning all of the branches away from the bottom of the trunk, so you end up leaving several inches of new growth at the top of the plant. When you’re shaping a multi-stemmed bush into a sphere, you won’t have to worry about any type of preliminary pruning. Begin at the top of the plant, using your trimmer or shears, and begin cutting downward using an outward angle midway up the plant.

It should be a gradual angle, not a severe angle like you would use for the cone shape. The goal is to remove approximately one inch of growth to begin with. You can take off more later if needed. Next, trim around the middle of the plant, using your trimmer or shears vertically. The next step is trimming the bottom of the sphere using inward and downward cuts at the base of the plant. Make sure you even out the top portion of the ball. Purchase a hoop that’s made out of wire that circles the center of the bush. This will give you a shape to aim for using your trimmer or shears. If you’re using a gas-powered trimmer, make sure it’s a model that’s easy to control, so you can expect precise cuts.


For this shape, use a taller plant. You can also follow the techniques above in order to shape the plant into a cone to start with. Begin at the top, then wrap masking tape or string around the plant in a spiral, then stop right before the bottom in order to leave a ring of growth at the plant’s base. Next, adjust the position of the tape or string in order to create even spacing for the spiral design. Make the first cut midway up the shrub, working toward the top. I recommend hand shears for shallow cuts. This will help create the open space in the spiral. After you have cut along the entire length of the tape or string, remove it to make further cuts into the groove. You can keep the cuts shallow or cut all the way back to the trunk. Once you have created the open spaces, you’ll give the growing parts a more rounded appearance using an angled cut at the bottom and top edges.

One of the best benefits of pruning your shrubs and trees is preventing leaf spot disease. You can learn more about what that is and how to protect your plants from it by clicking here!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, learning how to trim, prune, and shape shrubs and bushes aren’t as easy you as may have thought. There is a right time, the right tool and even the right angle to use when you’re making certain cuts, whether you want to promote new growth, remove dead growth without further damaging the plant, or even trying your hand a topiary and creating some impressive, beautifully shaped shrubs that will make your yard the best in the neighborhood. Learning about the different types of shrubs and bushes in your yard, when they flower, or when new growth should start to pop up, will give you a better idea of when you should prune and trim, when to leave your plants alone, and how much regular upkeep each type of plant will need. This knowledge will encourage new growth and can keep your plants looking green, healthy, and lush, while allowing them to thrive.