The Ultimate Guide to Trimming Bushes in the Fall

With the onset of fall comes warm days that make many gardeners itch to rush to trim their bushes a bit. However, any expert will tell you that fall is not the best season when trimming your bushes. Still, there are a few pruning tasks that you can do with confidence, considering you approach your garden with a plan.

Why Should You Not Trim Bushes in The fall?

People get eager to prune, but here is what a seasoned expert will tell you. Fall is not the right time to prune the bushes, even though all the imperfections on the shrubs may be visible. When you are trimming bushes in the fall, it stimulates new growth in them, but this is when the plant has to go dormant. So if you prune at this time, then this weakens the plant. When you prune on any warm day, this causes the sap to rise in the plant, and then the sap drops down at night below the freezing point, which is not a good thing.

This is disastrous and spoils all the hard work that you have done through the year. You should wait for all the leaves to fall; that will let your bushes have better strength and structure. This will allow them to make their way through spring without damage.

There are only a few plants that need pruning, and even they may need just light pruning. Never overdo it! If you still have to prune, then here are the rules that you should follow.

Check the weather outside

Do not prune if the weather outside is wet. This causes the spread of diseases helping microbes to grow at a fast rate. The growth causes more trouble on the trees that you have pruned. A sunny and dry day ensures a clean cut letting the wound heal properly.

Exceptions on what you can prune

Leave any significant pruning to late winter or the early spring season, when the wound will heal much faster. However, it can be pruned in fall if it is damaged, diseased, or dead wood. Rake up the leaves, top, and mulch the garden to give it a protective bed.

Technique of trimming

Trimming lets more sunlight and air pass through the bushes. So you should first remove the dying and dead branches. This can be done by cutting between the main body and the diseased part of the plant. Cut the areas when you see branches crossing or rubbing against each other. You may also want to cut any low-hanging branches that interfere or those that are growing vertically. Try to cut on the body of the plant or the main stem.

Use clean tools

You may use a variety of pruning tools but ensure that they are clean. If you have cut a diseased tree with a tool, clean it thoroughly before using it on another tree. This will not let the diseases spread. Just dip the tool in a solution made by mixing two teaspoons of bleach in warm water, and that should be fine. Alternatively, you may want to clean the tool in soapy hot water to kill the germs. Dry the tools well after you wash them.

Take help if required

If you need to trim from the ground with pole pruners or if you need to prune near the power lines, then it is recommended that you take help from an expert instead of taking over his dangerous task.

When should you trim in the fall season?

  • If you stay in an area prone to heavy snowfall, then make sure to prune the dead limbs of the trees to get rid of them before the onset of winter.
  • If you have shrub roses in your garden, then it is best to trim them in the fall. Heavy snowfall can break the canes, so trim the rose bushes to remove 2 to 4 inches of the canes to protect them. If your shrub roses have taken over your walkways, then the canes should be removed.
  • If there are perennials in your garden with diseases, then get rid of them. This list could include hollyhocks, bearded iris, and any plant on which you notice a powdery problem of mildew like the bee balm, peony, or the garden phlox. All that you should do is to cut the stem to 2 or 4 inches and destroy the trimmings.
  • Some plants send shoots around or at the base of the plant. Suckering shrubs start to form their colony. These include kerria, sumac, witch hazel, and saucer magnolia. Make sure that you remove the suckers if you spot them. Take care that you cut the sucker as close as possible to the base.
  • Trim the plants that are prone to slugs. Slugs lay their eggs in the fall season, so cut the stems and the leaves of these plants in the fall season. Make sure to destroy the pruning and not compost them.
  • Trimming a few branches of the Berried Twigs and Evergreens is fine to use in outdoor decorations. Place the cuts carefully as it will encourage future growth.

What should not be pruned in the fall season?

Below is the list of bushes that should not be trimmed in the fall season.

  • The trees and shrubs that flower in the spring season like lilac, azalea, and dogwood. 
  • The marginally hardy perennials are the plants that you cannot be sure to see their new growth in the spring season.
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Climbing roses
  • Perennials like Tall Sedum and Siberian Iris that offer winter interest
  • Perennials like black-eyed Susan and coneflower that contains seedheads to feed birds

Bushes that need pruning in the fall season and how to trim it the right way

Angel’s Trumpet

Angel’s Trumpet is also known as the Brugmansia. It grows fast and thus should be pruned. The plant blooms from the spring to the fall season, making sure that you prune it only after the flowering ceases, which occurs from the fall to the winter months.

Butterfly Bush

You can trim many species of Butterfly Bush species in the fall season. Take care to prune them only after they have bloomed. Remove the old wood down to a few inches above the ground.

Chaste tree

The Chaste tree blooms on any new growth and thus should be pruned by late fall. Remove any crowded branches and twiggy growth. Take care, not remove the flowers before the seed formation; else, the plant will send out a second round of bloom.


To prune Delphinium, just cut the stalks close to the ground letting the foliage stay behind. If you fertilize it again, then this will send out a second round of bloom. Its blooming season ends in the fall months, and this is when you should cut back the leaves.


The flowering season for the Gardenia plant is in the summer months and lasts until fall. With the end of the blooming season, the flower starts to fade, which is when you should remove any leggy branches and droppings.


Many hydrangeas species stay healthy when pruned in the fall season. These include the Limelight and the Annabelle plants. But not all the species of the hydrangeas should be pruned in the fall months.

Knock out roses

Knock-out roses bloom when there is new growth. Take care not to trim them in the early fall but pruning them in late fall is fine. Use the resting period post blooming by cutting them one-third back.


There are some varieties of English lavender that bloom in the fall and the summer months. Make sure to prune them after they have bloomed. Shear back by one-half or one-third after they bloom to keep the plant ready for the winter months.

When you can break the fall trimming rule?

If you are okay with the consequences, it is ok to prune your bushes in the fall season. Trimming the bushes in fall could leave you with no flowers for an entire year or could kill your stems in the winter.


When to trim a bush is dependent on its bloom time. A careful trim helps to remove old growth for some plant species, which makes place for new flowerings. Trimming makes the plants hardy keeping them from overwintering. However, other plants cannot handle the pressure of fall pruning. If you end up pruning these plants in the fall, then you will lop away the opportunity for them to bloom in the spring season.

If you have plants in your garden that need trimming in the fall months, it is fine to clip them. Just keep in mind that the right time to prune is when the shrub has finished blooming. So brush up on your list and follow this pruning guide to understand the correct methods of pruning your bushes in the fall season.

About Jennifer Igra

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York City known for it’s green gardens. Jennifer, a 30 year old gardener and green living fanatic started Igra World to share her gardening journey and increase gardening awareness among masses. Follow Igra World to improve your gardening skills.

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