Trim Bushes in the Fall

Can You Trim Bushes in the Fall?

In Gardening, Lawn & Garden by Jamie

We’ve all been there. At the end of the growing season, you are looking at your bushes which have gone through their spring and summer growth spurt and may be looking pretty ragged as winter approaches. However, don’t grab your pruning shears quite yet!             

Fall is the worst time of the year to trim bushes, as they have not yet entered their dormant phase, and the tender, fresh growth encouraged by pruning will be killed off by the freezing temperatures that will soon arrive.

Why is Fall a Bad Time to Trim Bushes?

The fall is a bad time to trim bushes because they have not yet gone dormant for the winter. That means when you trim them back, it will stimulate new growth. While that’s a good thing in spring, those new shoots will not have time to harden off before the arrival of cold weather.

When is the Best Time of Year to Trim Bushes?

There is no one best time of year to trim all bushes; it depends on the individual species.

Any bush that blooms in spring, such as lilacs, viburnum, or azaleas, have already formed next year’s flower buds by the time fall rolls around. The best time of year to prune them is after they have finished blooming in early summer.

On the other hand, summer or fall-blooming plants, such as roses or grapes, should be pruned in the coldest winter weather when there’s no risk that they will put on new growth or that the sap will rise.

What Can Happen if You Trim Bushes in the Fall?

If you trim bushes in fall, you may end up with dead or severely damaged plants by the next spring. The tender new growth stimulated by your late-season pruning will be blasted by the freezing temperatures soon to arrive, and the damage may extend down into the older growth as well.

Trimming Bushes in the Fall

Can You Trim Bushes When it is Raining?

It’s not a good idea to trim bushes in the rain, as it can encourage the spread of disease. Fungal spores can be carried in water droplets, and if they land on a freshly-cut wound, the fungal disease can quickly infect plant tissues.

As well, even a moderate rainfall can weigh down branches with accumulated water, so you cannot get a good picture of the shape of the bush that you are trimming. You may end up with a lopsided pruning job when things have dried up.

Wait for a spell of dry weather to do any pruning.

Can You Trim Evergreen Bushes in the Fall?

Fall is not a good time to trim evergreen bushes. Even though they are hardy enough to keep their leaves year-round, a fall pruning will expose them to the same risk of cold damage as your deciduous shrubs. They should be pruned in late winter or early spring before they put on a spurt of new growth.

Can You Trim Holly Bushes in the Fall?

You should not trim holly bushes in the fall, for the same reasons as for other bushes.

However, once reliably cold temperatures arrive, you can cut holly bushes for holiday greenery. Just make sure that you time your trimming in accordance with the weather forecast.

Look for a spell of about 5 days of cold weather with temperatures below freezing at night. 2 or 3 days in, in late afternoon, you can cut branches of your holly bush. It’s a good way to combine any shaping that it needs, along with gathering materials for holiday decorating.

You can also trim holly bushes in early spring.

Can You Trim Rose Bushes in the Fall?

Do not trim your rose bushes in the fall, as any new growth that follows the pruning will be killed in winter.

Instead, prune roses in the cold winter weather while they are dormant, or in early spring as they start their growing season.

Can You Trim Lilac Bushes in the Fall?

Never trim lilac bushes in fall. If you look carefully, you will see that next year’s buds have already formed. If you cut them back in fall, you won’t get blossoms next spring. Instead, cut off spent flowers and do any shaping after they finish blooming.

Can You Trim Boxwood Bushes in the Fall?

Boxwood bushes should not be trimmed in the fall. The best time for pruning boxwood is in late winter or early spring as it breaks its dormancy. If you want some branches for Christmas decorating, wait until cold temperatures in early December to protect the health of your boxwoods.

Bushes that Should Be Trimmed in the Fall

Are There Any Bushes that Should Be Trimmed in the Fall?

On the whole, you should not be picking up your pruning shears at all in the fall. The last thing you want to do for any plant is encourage tender new growth which will get blasted by cold winter weather.

However, if you have damaged or diseased branches, you should remove them to ensure the health of the bush. But don’t get carried away and start trimming the whole shrub just because you’re there!

Read Related: Can You Trim Bushes in the Winter?

Final Thoughts

It may be frustrating to look at a raggedy bush in fall, and your fingers may be itching to clean it up, but resist the temptation. Wait until the right time of the year for that particular species, or you may find yourself replacing it in spring.