Fall Pruning and Your Yard

Fall Pruning and Your Yard


Autumn is the main pruning season for most shrubs.

Chillier temperatures mean that winter is just around the corner, with the first snowflakes now falling across higher terrain and in northerly locations. Before winter sets in, you’ll want to take your pruning shears and work your way around the yard. Certainly, you can wait until late winter, before trees begin to bud, but there is no time like the present and, besides, you want your yard to look spic ‘n span for the holidays, right?

Corrective Pruning

So, why is fall the best time to prune? That’s easy: when the leaves are gone and you can best determine what “corrective pruning” needs to be done advises Dr. James R. Feucht, a specialist in landscape plants with Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Feucht describes corrective pruning as removing parts of trees and shrubs that are growing in ways that we do not like. This can mean a branch hanging over the house, a bush that is showing obvious signs of distress and needs to be cut back or removed, or anything else that presents a visual problem.

Diseased Wood

What if you’re dealing with diseased wood? Is pruning as simple as shearing or sawing? Are there other steps that homeowners can take? Erv Evans, writing for North Carolina State University, advises that cuts be made with a sterile blade into healthy wood.

Specifically, by dipping the blades in a disinfectant consisting of one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water, you can avoid spreading disease. Evans advises dipping into this solution with each cut and notes that 70 percent wood alcohol is another disinfectant that can also be used.

Flowering Shrubs

Flowering shrubs should be handled differently than other shrubs offers Evans. For one, pruning now may not be wise, particularly for spring- and summer-flowering shrubs. Spring-flowering shrubs including azaleas, forsythia, lilac and witchhazel, are best tended in May or later. Summer- and fall-flowering shrubs should be pruned before new growth starts the following spring. Summer shrubs include summersweet, butterfly bushes and oakleaf hydrangea; fall shrubs include confederate rose hibiscus, loropetalum and encore azalea. Thus, handle summer and fall flowering shrubs now or in late winter; tackle spring-flowering shrubs in late spring or early summer.

There is a difference in the way pruning is approached too. Thinning helps to keep the shape of the tree or shrub in place while shearing, typically done with shrubs, removes growth across one area, usually at the top. Thinning can allow for more light to penetrate the plant, resulting in healthier growth. You’ll reduce the plant’s size without changing the shape. Moreover, when carefully cut back, flowering shrubs should produce larger flowers as more energy is redirected away from sustaining wood to nourishing flowers.

Cooperative Extension

You may be thinking this: the advice here is good, but what about where I live? Southern California, Florida and the gulf coast of Texas have very mild climates and different types of plants than what you would find in Michigan’s upper peninsula, across Maine or in the Rockies. That’s where the Cooperative Extension System offices found in each state and territory can help out.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’ s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is the federal partner to the Cooperative Extension System, offering farmers and homeowners alike valuable assistance in handling such matters. We’ve supplied a link to the Cooperative Extension System Offices “about” page in our references section, which shows a map of the United States that can help you find state and county assistance for your area.

Extension employees can help you determine the best way to prune different plants, pinching or heading back some while thinning or shearing others. Happy pruning!


Colorado State University Cooperative Extension: Fall Pruning; Dr. James R. Feucht

North Carolina State University: Pruning Shrubs; Erv Evans

United States Department of Agriculture: Cooperative Extension System Offices



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About Author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan is a freelance writer and editor as well as publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine", an online publication. Matt covers campus, consumer, business and financial topics on various websites and weblogs, and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle", "Sam's Club Magazine" and "Wisconsin Golfer".