7 Plants You Should Always Prune in Winter - Backyard Boss
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7 Plants You Should Always Prune in Winter

Pruning is a great way to improve your plant’s health by cutting off dead, diseased, or weak branches or stems. Unfortunately, one of the most common gardening mistakes is not knowing when to prune your plants.

But before you sharpen your pruning shears, know that plants, whether young or mature, living indoors or outdoors, require that you consider seasons. Since most plants are dormant in winter, pruning them during their dormant season allows them to heal before the temperatures start warming up again.

Below are some plants you should prune in winter.

Benefits of Winter Pruning

Pruning in winter is a little challenging, but the procedure will benefit your plants in the next growing season. Pruning in winter is beneficial for a number of reasons:

  1. Most plants are leafless, which makes pruning easier, and minimizes mistakes,
  2. It has a less damaging effect on your plant’s roots,
  3. As opposed to summer pruning, winter pruning is less stressful for plants,
  4. It’s less likely to attract bacteria, fungi, and infection,
  5. It gives your plants enough time to heal before spring’s new growth.

7 Plants to Prune in Winter

1. Common Abelia (Linnaea x Grandiflora)

abelia plant
Image credits: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) via Creative Commons

This small evergreen shrub is part of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family that you can prune in winter. Abelia blooms from late spring through fall, so pruning them in winter helps retain their shape and controls their growth.

Use hand pruners to thin up to 1/3 of old stems to promote new growth and prevent legginess. Don’t shear Abelia, as you risk cutting away new growth, leaving behind less healthy plant parts that’ll negatively affect your plant’s health.

Growing Zone 6-9
Wildlife Value Hummingbirds, Butterflies, Bees
Problems Possible Winter Die-Back
Great For Hedge, Privacy Plant, Borders, Accent

2. Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii)

Buddleja flower known as butterfly bush
Image credits: Markus Winkler via Pexels

Native to Asia, the butterfly bush is a drought-tolerant shrub that thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soils. In the spring and summer, the butterfly bush turns heads with its fragrant cone-shaped panicles that come in many colors, including lilac, white, and pink.

For the best flower appearance, aggressively prune this plant (nearly to the ground) in late winter. Before growing the Butterfly Bush, check your local state laws, as it’s considered invasive in some parts of the US.

Growing Zone 5-10
Wildlife Value Hummingbirds, Butterflies, Bees
Problems Invasive, Weed-Like, Attracts Spider Mites and Nematodes
Great For Borders, Cottage Gardens, Butterfly Gardens

3. Cape Plumbago (Plumbago auriculata)

Cape Plumbago
Image credit: Lakeisha Ethans for Backyard Boss

These flowers can be grown as annuals if you plant them outdoors or perennials if you grow them in containers that you can bring indoors during the cold winter months. Whether this plant is growing in the ground or in containers, hard prune it in winter to control its growth, avoid legginess, and prevent it from growing too large.

Note: When pruning, please wear gloves, as the plant can cause contact dermatitis, skin irritation, redness, and blistering upon contact. All parts of this plant are toxic to humans and animals.

Growing Zone 8-11
Wildlife Value Butterflies, Bees
Problems Attracts Whiteflies, Spider Mites, Mealy Bugs
Great For Low Hedges, Ground Covers, Container Garden

4. Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)

flowers of coastal sweetpepperbush, clethra alnifolia,
Image credits: Przemyslaw Muszynski via Shutterstock

Belonging to the Clethraceae family, the sweet pepperbush can grow up to 10 feet in ideal conditions. The shrub produces spicy-sweet fragrant flowers in narrow, upright panicles and tolerates different soil types.

Although it’s a low-maintenance shrub, prune 1/3 of old stems to the ground to promote new growth, prevent legginess, and manage its size. Cut dead, damaged, and diseased branches to prevent the spread of diseases. If you’re unsure whether the branch is alive or dead, clip the top, and if it’s white, it’s alive.

Growing Zone 3-9
Wildlife Value Butterflies, Bees, Hummingbirds, Small Mammals
Problems Attracts Spider Mites
Great For Borders, Hedges, Rain Garden, Cottage Gardens

5. Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Blossoming purple leaved Physocarpus opulifolius in May
Image credits: APugach via Shutterstock

The ninebark is a sight to behold in spring and summer when it boasts small pink or white flowers in spirea-like clusters. The plant prefers full sun, partial shade, and slightly-acidic loamy soils to thrive.

Although this shrub is also low-maintenance, you can cut it to the ground to boost its health and promote new growth. Noted for its exfoliating bark, this fast-growing and drought-tolerant shrub is one of the native alternatives to an invasive plant named Common Buckthorn.

Growing Zone 2-8
Wildlife Value Butterflies, Bees, Small Mammals, Pollinators, Songbirds
Problems Fireblight, Powdery Mildew, Leaf Spots
Great For Barriers, Borders, Hedges, Privacy Plants

6. Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata)

Image credits: S.O.E via Shutterstock
Image credits: S.O.E via Shutterstock

The panicle hydrangea is a winter-hardy plant that blooms stunning pyramidal panicles of creamy white or rosy pink flowers. They prefer full sun, partial shade, and moist, well-draining soils to thrive. Prune the stems just above the fat bud (called a heading cut) to boost health and encourage the plant to produce larger flowers.

Note: When pruning, please wear proper gear because accidental ingestion can cause nausea, stomach pain, and vomiting. In addition, this plant’s bark, flowers, and leaves are poisonous to humans and animals.

Growing Zone 3-8
Wildlife Value Butterflies, Bees, Pollinators
Problems Aphids, Mites, Leaf Spot, Rust, Mildew, Wilt, Blight
Great For Borders, Hedges, Accent

7. Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)

Blooming Crape Mytrle trees in a suburban backyard. These bush like trees have bright pink blooms that flower at the end of the branches in the Summer season.
Image credits: Jaclyn Vernace via Shutterstock

Boasting deep emerald foliage and paper-thin pink, white or lavender blooms, the crepe myrtle is no stranger to heights. If you don’t prune it, don’t be surprised to see it cross 20 feet in height at maturity.

The plant is nearly leafless in winter, making it easy to prune dead, diseased, and old branches to make room for fresh growth. Named after Swedish botanist Magnus von Lagerstrom, the plant prefers full sun and well-draining soils to thrive.

The plant is somewhat drought-tolerant but requires protection to survive harsh winters.

Growing Zone 6-9
Wildlife Value Butterflies, Bees, Pollinators
Problems Aphids, Scale, Fungal Leaf Spot, Powdery Mildew
Great For Screening Plant, Hedge, Accent

Take a Leaf of Faith

Pruning is a great way to boost your plant’s growth, eradicate diseases, and encourage more blooms or fruits. In addition, winter pruning minimizes stress on your plants, makes precision cutting possible, and gives your plants enough time to heal before new growth.

Leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section, and as always, please share!

Happy Gardening!