The art of pruning: Fall edition

We've already discussed the tasks to be completed in your garden for the autumn season. Now, let's take a closer look at pruning perennial plants. This is an important task, but it should not be done without knowledge. Improper pruning will not only be ineffective but may harm your plant and even lead to its demise! To prevent this from happening, continue reading the article.


Why prune in fall?

  • Disease and pest management: Removing diseased or pest-infested branches and foliage in the fall helps prevent these issues from overwintering and returning in the spring.
  • Shape and aesthetics: Fall pruning allows you to shape your plants and trees before they go dormant, ensuring they maintain an attractive form.
  • Stimulate growth: Pruning can stimulate new growth in the spring, leading to a fuller and more productive garden.
  • Light and airflow: Thinning out branches in fall ensures that light and air can penetrate the canopy, reducing the risk of fungal diseases.

What plants need to be pruned?

Deciduous trees:

Autumn is an ideal time to prune deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves in the fall). 
Pruning deciduous trees is a key element of fall garden maintenance. Start by examining the tree for any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. These are your priority. Use sharp, clean pruning tools to make precise cuts, leaving no stubs behind. Cut just outside the branch collar, the slightly swollen area where the branch meets the trunk.

Next, focus on thinning the canopy to enhance airflow and sunlight penetration. Remove any crossing or crowded branches. Remember, less is often more when it comes to pruning. Prune judiciously to maintain the tree's natural shape and structural integrity.


Prune flowering shrubs after they've finished blooming. 
Start by removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches and dead buds to promote overall health. Take a step back and assess the shrub's shape, aiming for an open and balanced form.
Focus on removing any overcrowded, crossing, or weak branches. This not only enhances the shrub's appearance but also improves air circulation and sunlight exposure, crucial for growth. Always use sharp, clean pruning shears and make precise cuts just above a healthy bud or node.

Remember, just like with the trees, less is often more, so proceed with care to maintain its natural beauty.


Begin pruning perennial flowers by removing spent blooms and dead foliage to prevent diseases and encourage fresh growth in the next season. For perennials that tend to grow tall and leggy, consider cutting them back by about one-third of their height. This promotes sturdier stems and prevents flopping.

Remember to trim away any diseased or pest-infested portions, disposing of them properly. However, avoid heavy pruning for evergreen perennials; instead, focus on tidying them up. Overall, a well-executed autumn pruning regimen will help your perennials thrive and deliver a vibrant garden come spring.


Start pruning by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged canes to discourage the spread of issues and improve air circulation. Trim back spent flowers to stimulate new growth, cutting at a 45-degree angle just above a leaf bud.

For hybrid roses, a moderate pruning works best, leaving about 18 inches of growth. Shrub roses require less pruning but should still be shaped for an open, vase-like structure. Ultimately, precise pruning techniques depend on the rose variety, but a well-timed and careful trim will lead to a bounty of beautiful blossoms in the next growing season.


The timing of your pruning efforts is crucial. Aim for late autumn when the leaves have fallen, and the plants are entering dormancy. This varies depending on your location, but generally, late October to early November is a good window.

How to prune correctly

  • Use the right tools: Ensure your pruning shears, loppers, and saws are sharp and clean to make clean cuts that heal faster.
  • Angle matters: When making cuts, follow the natural angle of the branch collar, located at the base of the branch where it connects to the trunk. Avoid leaving stubs.
  • Diseased material: If you're dealing with diseased branches, sanitize your tools between cuts to prevent spreading the disease.
  • Thin sparingly: Don't over-prune; focus on removing dead or crowded branches to maintain the plant's structure.

Avoid sealing wounds: Contrary to popular belief, it's best not to apply wound sealant. Plants typically heal more effectively on their own.
Remember, you don't need to prune every single part of the plant. When in doubt, it's often better to leave most of the plant intact, as you can always continue the pruning process next spring. Pruning is a delicate art, and it's crucial to approach it with care and knowledge. By following the right techniques and being selective in your pruning efforts, you'll help your perennial plants thrive and prepare them for a healthy return next season.