How to formatively prune a deciduous shrub

Pruning newly planted shrubs is essential to get the best from them. Here's how to do it.

Do it:

Jan, Feb, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec

Takes just:

20 minutes

Pruning immediately after planting is known as formative pruning, as it directs the future shape of the plant. The aim is to develop a balanced structure of branches with an even spread of foliage, flowers or fruit.

Because plant growth hormones are concentrated in the shoot tips, shortening or removing stems redirects hormones to produce more and stronger shoots, so weak stems should be pruned hard and vigorous ones lightly.

Unpruned growth can become long and straggly; the exception is where a tree or shrub has a single main stem or ‘leader’, which shouldn’t be touched. The amount of pruning depends on plant type: deciduous hedging plants, raspberry canes and currant bushes are cut hard back all over, while most trees and shrubs need selective, formative pruning. Newly planted rambling roses like a formative prune to encourage growth from the base, but hard pruning of other types of rose is generally done in late winter.

Discover our step by step advice on formatively pruning a deciduous shrub, below. 

You will need

  • Secateurs

Advertisement

This shrub (Clethra) has a good framework of branches, but with too much tall, leggy and thin growth. If left untouched, the bush would become very congested once in leaf next spring.
Shortening the strong, tall and leggy stems has two benefits – removing the main shoot tips will stimulate strong, bushy growth for the future and during the coming winter, and it lessens the overall height, which reduces the risk of wind rock.
Cut back to just above a well-placed bud, choosing an outward-facing one as this will encourage the development of an open-centred, vase-shaped shrub. Cutting above inward-facing buds would result in a poor shape with a congested centre.
Newly planted rambling roses like a formative prune to encourage growth from the base.
Any shoots growing in the wrong direction; such as inwards, downwards or at right angles – should be removed completely. Cut close to the main stem to avoid leaving ‘spurs’ that will die and possibly become diseased. Thin, weak shoots should also be removed.
After formatively pruning a deciduous shrub, it should have a well-spaced framework of stems. All the thin, weak and badly placed shoots have been removed.

Advertisement

More shrubs to plant and prune in autumn

Discover more ideas and inspiration

Related content

How to move a deciduous shrub

How to plant shrubs

Pruning tips to prevent windrock

Related offers

Offer

Heather offer

Save on heathers

Inject some colour into your winter and spring planting schemes with this beautiful collection of hardy heathers from only £2.55 per plant. These ericaceous plants make brilliant weed-suppressing ground cover and look fantastic with spring bulbs. Order now and your plants will be despatched from February 2018.

Order now

Offer

Savill Garden event

Savill Garden event - SOLD OUT

Join us for a special pruning day with David Hurrion on Monday 9 April, 2018 at The Savill Garden. Including a welcome from Keeper of the Gardens, John Anderson. You'll also receive a goody bag worth over £25 and a 10% discount in the shop.

Order now

Offer

Subscriber only content Save on in-the-green collection

Save £46 on spring bulbs in-the-green

Buy a mixed collection of 200 bulbs in-the-green and receive 50 free Anemone blanda bulbs worth £12. Collection includes English bluebells, single and double snowdrops and winter aconites.

Unlock now