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6 Bushes & Shrubs To Avoid Pruning In The Fall

While it might be tempting to tidy up some of your perennials before winter hits, there are a few bushes and shrubs that you should absolutely avoid pruning in the fall – and some never at all! 

Pruning is the process of cutting back and removing old or dying foliage on plants. It can not only improve the appearance of plants, but it also helps to keep them healthier so they can come back more vibrant and stronger the following year. 

It can be tempting to want to clean up your yard and plants before the cold weather hits. You want to get your hands dirty and prepare your property so you can quickly get back out there early in the spring. 

Two male hands pruning a bush.
Pruning is a vital task for many plants and shrubs. However, the fall is not always the best time to perform it.

By all means, pull out those dead vegetable crops from your garden and raised beds. Remove faded annual flowers from your hanging baskets. Rake up all those dry and crispy leaves up from underneath your trees. (Remember, you can add most of these products to your home compost piles, too!)

But there are some bushes and shrubs you want to avoid cleaning up and pruning in the fall. Some of these plants should actually never be pruned at all! Check out these 6 bushes and shrubs that you should pass by the next time you have your pruners out this fall. 

Six Bushes and Shrubs To Avoid Puning This Fall

There are some issues when it comes to pruning in the fall. Fall pruning can occur, but the plants will struggle to put on many blooms, if any. 

First off, it might be hard to see what is exactly going on with the plant due to the thick foliage and leaves. By the time all of the foliage dies off and falls to the ground (if it ever does at all with some perennials), it will be too late to really prune properly.

Second, pruning can also encourage new growth to appear. This new growth in the fall won’t have time to properly grow with the cold weather and temps on the way. In addition, the wounds created by pruning won’t heal as quickly as they would in warmer temperatures.

The new blooms of a lilac bush are formed on old wood from a previous year's blooms.
A lot of new blooms in the spring form on old wood that is left behind from the previous year’s blooms. If that old wood is pruned in the fall, new blooms cannot be formed the following spring.

Lastly, and most importantly for this article, some plants create their blooms on old wood. When blooms die off in the spring or summer, the wood that is left behind is the “old wood.” If you were to prune back that old wood in the fall, there would be nothing left behind for the new blooms to grow in the following year. 

The six bushes and shrubs below all require old wood in order for their blooms to grow and flourish the next growing season. This article will go into how to prune these plants properly if needed as well as basic care tips. 

1. Oakleaf Hydrangea – Avoid Pruning This Fall

Hydrangeas can be a bit difficult to prune if you aren’t aware of which variety you are growing. Some plants bloom on new wood while others actually bloom the following year on old wood. 

Oakleaf hydrangea falls into the latter category – They bloom on old wood, producing blooms from spring until early summer. 

Oakleaf hydrangeas are perennial shrubs that feature leaves that look similar to those of oak trees. During the fall, their foliage can range in color from red to orange to purple, making them a beautiful addition for year-round visual interest. 

Basic Oakleaf Hydrangea Care Tips

To begin with, oakleaf hydrangeas are cold hardy and drought resistant. They flourish in full sun and well-draining soil down to Growing Zone 5. They grow up to around four to eight feet tall. 

Avoiding pruning oakleaf hydrangea  in the fall; Do it in the spring instead if you must.
The leaves of the oakleaf hydrangea resemble oak tree leaves.

Keep the soil moist around the base of the plants but avoid standing water. Adding on a thick layer of mulch below the plant can help to keep the soil cooler and help retain moisture. 

You shouldn’t prune oakleaf hydrangea often, except for removing completely dead branches that don’t produce blooms in the spring. Removing suckers from around the base of the plant will help if you are concerned with spreading. 

If you must prune, wait until the blooms start to fade in late spring/early summer before trimming and shaping. This avoids the chance that you remove the old wood. 

2. Lilac Bushes – Avoid Pruning This Fall

There’s nothing better than the beautiful fragrance of lilac blooms in late spring. Lilacs are an old-fashioned shrub that displays multiple large blooms in white and different shades of purple.

Unfortunately, it seems like before you know it, those vibrant and colorful blooms start to fade. The blooms of a lilac bush only stay lush for about two weeks, and then they start to die back. 

Lilacs should not be pruned in the fall.
Lilacs require old wood in order to set new blooms the following year. Removing spent blooms in the fall will reduce the number of blooms that appear.

While pruning lilacs is an important part of keeping the shrub tidy and under control, it’s all about timing. As with all of these mentioned shrubs and bushes, lilacs bloom on old wood. If you wait until the fall to trim back these plants, you will be removing all of that old wood used for next year’s blooms.

Basic Lilac Care Tips

Lilacs can be planted in the fall or the spring in zones down through 7, although some varieties can go as south as zone 9. They need to be grown in fertile soil and in a location that receives full sun. The best way to plant lilacs is with a transplant that contains a root system. 

While they might be slow to establish, you will be rewarded with multiple blooms in about 4 to 5 years. Lilac bushes don’t require a lot of fertilizer and only need around an inch of rainfall per week to thrive. 

As mentioned, in order to keep your lilac shrub tidy, you do need to prune them. However, they should be trimmed as soon as they are done blooming. If you wait and prune too late in the summer or the fall, then you risk removing all of that old wood that lilacs need in order to bloom in the following year. 

You can remove up to a third of the shrub if the plant is severely overgrown or starting to show old age and wear. Cut off any small suckers and canes that are thin and weak until the bush is around eye level. Keep in mind that severe pruning like this will result in a reduction of blooms for a few years. 

3. Weigela – Avoid Pruning This Fall

Another old-time favorite that you should’t prune in the fall is the weigela bush. These fast-growing shrubs can grow between one to two feet per year under the right conditions.

Weigela is a shrub that your should also avoid pruning in the fall.
Weigela features beautiful pink blooms that are perfect for attracting pollinators to your landscape.

As with other shrubs and bushes on this list, weigela blooms form on old wood. Those blooms feature tiny pink flowers that arrive early in the summer, making them perfect for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to your property. 

Basic Weigela Care Tips

Weigela can be planted in the spring or in late fall. They are easy to maintain and grow well in zones 4 through 8. 

They need at least 8 to 10 hours of sunlight each day in order to really flourish. If you plant them in partial shade, they can still grow but their blooms will be greatly reduced. 

They require pretty frequent watering until they become established. Then, typical rainfall should be sufficient to keep the weigela content.  

Unlike some bushes and shrubs, weigela doesn’t typically get too unruly, even though it is quick to grow. If pruning is required, be sure to do it right after the plant has bloomed to avoid removing too much old wood. 

4. Forsythia – Avoid Pruning This Fall

There’s no doubt that forsythia shrubs are a stunning addition to any property. With their vibrant yellow flowers that appear early in the spring, they are a great way to welcome in the warmer weather.    

The bright yellow blooms of the forsythia bush need to have old wood in order to grow, so pruning it in the fall should be avoided.
There’s no doubt that forsythia is a show stopper, but its bright yellow blooms need old wood in order to grow in the spring.

Those yellow blooms that attract birds, bees, and butterflies galore all appear on old wood. Pruning in the fall will cause a huge reduction of blooms the following year. 

Basic Forsythia Care Tips

Forsythia bushes are hardy in zones 3 through 8. They need full sun in order for the blooms to really grow but aren’t super particular about soil conditions as long as it is well-draining and loose. 

It’s best to plant forsythia in the fall when the plant is dormant. Water frequently until established and fertilize yearly in early spring. 

They can grow to a massive 12 feet wide by over 10 feet tall. There are dwarf varieties available, so be sure to keep the established size in mind when choosing your planting location. 

While pruning is likely needed with this fast-growing shrub, it needs to be done immediately after it is done blooming in the spring. As unruly as it might look in the fall, be sure to hold off until then.   

5. Rhododendron – Avoid Pruning This Fall

With proper care, rhododendrons are a great way to add year-round color and interest to properties. They are evergreens, which means their foliage stays green all throughout winter, adding color to your property when other plants turn bleak and dull. 

Come springtime, they reward you with clusters of blooms in purples, pinks, and white. These blooms only appear on old wood, so avoid pruning in the fall. 

Rhododendrons in pinks and white also grow on old wood, so you should avoid pruning them in the fall.
Having rhododendrons on your property is a great way to add year-round interest.
Basic Rhododendron Care Tips

Rhododendrons grow well in zones 3 through 8. They can be planted in early spring or in the fall. Planting in the fall will often result in plants that have stronger and healthier root systems. 

Unlike most bushes and shrubs in this article, rhododendrons prefer dappled sunlight as opposed to direct, full sun. In order for rhododendrons to really flourish, they need to be planted in a location that has fertile, well-draining soil that can stay moist but not saturated. 

Since rhododendrons prefer more acidic soils, use pine mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and reduce competition with weeds. Fertilize yearly in early spring. 

If you do need to prune rhododendrons, do so right after the blooms have started to fade in the spring. You can remove dead or damaged foliage or branches at any point of the season, however. 

6. Azalea – Avoid Pruning This Fall

Often confused with rhododendrons, azaleas are very similar plants and can be treated similarly, but they are different plants. Both are members of the genus, Rhododendron. Technically, azaleas are always rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas (confused yet?). 

Azaleas tend to be smaller than rhododendrons. They grow better in warmer climates while rhododendrons prefer cooler climates. Many azalea varieties are considered to be deciduous, meaning that they drop their foliage in the winter. 

You should avoid pruning azaleas in the fall. Do it in the spring instead.
Azaleas and rhododendrons are often mistaken for one another, but there’s no doubt that both are beautiful shrubs.

Azaleas feature blooms in shades of red, orange, pink, peach, and white that appear in late spring off of old wood. Similarly to rhododendrons, azaleas prefer some dappled light with morning sun for the best growth and blooming rates. 

Basic Azalea Care Tips

Late spring or early fall is the best time to plant azaleas. They prefer humus-rich, acidic soil that drains well. The hardiness zones of azaleas vary depending on species, but they are typically hardy between zones 4 to 6.  

Azaleas do not have a deep root structure, so they tend to dry out quickly. To help avoid this, be sure to use a thick layer of natural mulch around the plant’s base. Using pine mulches will help to keep the soil acidic as the mulch breaks down over time. 

Mild pruning can allow plants to be bushier and fuller, but otherwise, pruning is not needed. Do not prune in the fall. If you must prune, do so right after the blooms have died in spring. 

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