Spring Pruning Your Small Garden: The Basics

New to the whole gardening game? If so, you’ve probably heard that you need to prune the plants in your small garden or container garden, but maybe you don’t have the foggiest idea when or how to do it. Well, we’re here to help! Here’s a rundown on the basics of pruning plants for spring, including which plants in your container garden to prune, which tools to use, and which words to learn that will impress your gardener friends and keep your small space garden looking good.

What is Pruning and Why Should You Do It?

To prune a plant means to remove branches and/or branch stubs that are dead, diseased, or damaged. It may also include trimming back healthy branches to promote new growth. The goal of pruning is to improve the plant’s growth and appearance.

Which Plants Should You Prune in the Spring?

You may or may not know this, but pruning can’t just be done anytime on any plant. When and what to prune depends on the type of plant, including its climate and other conditions that affect its growth. For this reason, some plants should be pruned in spring, while others benefit from a spruce up come summer or winter (fall is generally not a good time to prune most plants).

Okay, so let’s get down to it: which plants should you prune in spring? The following list, though not exhaustive, will help get you on the right track:

Flowering trees and shrubs, including:

  • Abelia
  • Azalea (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Bluebeard
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Crab Myrtle
  • Elderberry (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Hawthorne
  • Honeysuckle
  • Lilac (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Magnolia
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Potentilla
  • Quince (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Rhododendron (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Rose
  • Sweetspire (prune after it finishes flowering)
  • Summersweet
  • Weigela

Flowering perennials, including:

  • Asters
  • Black-Eyed Susans
  • Campanula
  • Coral Bells
  • Delphiniums
  • Foxgloves
  • Hosta
  • Lavender
  • Lupine
  • Roses
  • Russian Sage

Woody herbs, including:

  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Sage

Some fruit and vegetable plants


Ornamental grasses

Pruning Terminology and Which Tools You’ll Need

Want to win friends and influence people with your garden capabilities? They don’t have to know you’re a newbie gardener, so go ahead: strut your stuff at your next neighborhood party with these pruning terms .

But first: get the right tools for the job.


Pinching is defined as nipping off the top ¼ to 1″ of your plant’s branches. This is done to encourage better plant growth and stimulate blooms.


This refers to pulling or cutting off flowers that have bloomed and are now dying. This stimulates more bloom growth.


To shear means to smoothly cut across hedges and shrubs to clean up its shape and promote bushiness.


To keep your small garden looking and growing at its optimal state, you will need to replant from time to time. This is especially important when a tree, plant, or shrub has outgrown its pot, box, or container.

The general rule of thumb for replanting is to use a pot or planter that is about twice the size of the last one. During the replanting process, trim the plant’s larger roots back and gently loosen the root ball with your fingers before planting in the new container.

Some Basic Pruning Rules of Thumb

  • Always use sharp, clean tools (it minimizes damage to the plant and promotes faster healing)
  • Remove no more than 1/3 of the old growth of a plant per year
  • When pruning bushes and trees, cut the branch as close to the main stem as possible
  • Use gloves and wear long-sleeved clothing (to protect hands and arms from sharp tools and thorns)
  • Remove a branch to prevent two branches from rubbing against each other
  • When pruning ornamental grasses, cut stems as close to the ground as you can without cutting new growth

More Plant Care Articles for You to Binge Read

Curious to learn more gardening basics? We’ve got you covered: check out our list of articles that cover everything in plant care, from watering and feeding your plants to preventing common plant diseases and pests.

Would you like more gardening help? Call our small space garden experts today for advice or to place an order for gardening tools and other essentials. Visit us at www.windowbox.com or call us today: 1-888-427-3362.

Photo credits (top to bottom, left to right):  MilomingoLarryEric KilbyPatty MitchellTodd HeftGene Wilburn, Shutterstock images (3), UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences – OCCS


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