Although the type of pruner can make a gardener's life easier, when to prune is just as important in creating a vibrant, colorful garden. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute acquired gardening tips from the experts: horticulturalists, gardening associations, and master gardeners.

According to Susan Gruber, Briggs & Stratton Yard Smarts horticulturalist, this is a simple guide for when to prune in your garden to create healthy, good-looking, and long-lasting plants:

Early Spring (March-April)

Plant type: Ornamental grasses

Task: Cut as close to the ground as possible.

Tip: Tying the tops before cutting makes the job fast and easy.

Plant type: Semiwoody perennials (butterfly bush, Russian sage) 

Task: Cut back to about 4" to produce strong new stems and best flower display.

Tip: May be cut back anytime during the winter.

Plant type: Broad-leaved evergreens (boxwood, holly firethorn)

Task: Prune out stems with winter-injured foliage.

Tip: Wait until later in the spring to shear or hedge so new growth will quickly cover cut tips.

Plant type: Summer-flowering trees, shrubs, vines, hydrangea, and roses
Task: Remove dead, damaged, or crowded stems, shape or reduce size if desired.

Tip: Summer flower buds develop on new growth. Spring fertilization and adequate moisture in the summer will maximize number and size of summer blooms.

Spring/Early Summer (May-June)

Plant type: Spring-flowering shrubs (forsythia, rhododendron, lilacs)

Task: Prune for shaping or size control following the "prune after flowering" rule. These plants form buds for next year's flowers during the summer. Pruning after midsummer will cut off flower buds.

Tip: Deadheading — remove fading flowers — benefits plants like rhododendron and lilac by preventing seed formation and directing growth into flower buds for next spring. Thinning multistemmed shrubs by removing several of the oldest stems each year will maintain size and keep plant vigorously blooming on new stems. If any of these plants, like forsythia and lilac, are overgrown, cut down to 3" to 4" for a fresh start. A drastic procedure for problem plants growing too vigorously in full sun, this technique is called "rejuvenation" and is not for the timid gardener!

Plant type: Evergreen shrubs (yews, juniper, boxwood)

Task: Hedging and shaping if desired or thinning to reduce size.

Tip: Cut just as growth begins so new growth covers cut tips. Each job should include some inner thinning of the bush to ensure the outside layer of foliage doesn't become very thick, resulting in a thin shell of very dense foliage that is attractive to insects.

Midsummer/Fall (July-November)

Plant type: Flowering perennials and annuals

Task: Deadheading — removing flowers as they fade — extends the flowering or promotes a second flush of flowers. After the frost in your area when perennials and annuals have died, cut down and mulch the area well for next year's growth.

Tip: Do not deadhead if dried flowers or seed are attractive or desirable for propagation. During this time, woody plants will not produce callus; the tissue that covers pruning wounds. Fungal spores, bacteria, and insects are all abundant and can find a foothold in an open wound.

Winter (December-February)

Plant type: Deciduous and evergreen trees, crab apples and other pest-prone plants

Task: Remove any dead, damaged, or hazardous limbs. Prune limbs that interfere with walkways and structures. Remove crossed or rubbing limbs. Prune out suckers.

Tip: Winter is a great time to prune, insect and disease pressure is minimized, and the plant architecture is visible.

Steve Hutton, president of the Conard-Pyle Company, offers some simple advice on pruning roses. "When forsythia just starts to bloom is the time to prune back the canes of your conventional garden roses such as hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas. In most cases, they should be cut leaving no more than 12 inches of the old canes. Also prune out any light, twiggy growth from the base of the plant. This creates a stronger plant with lots of blooms from the first flush of spring."

Raymond Evison, renowned clematis breeder, says that twisting and holding the clematis like a ponytail helps make pruning of the plant easier and faster.

Have a busy schedule and want a novel way to be reminded when to prune specific plants?

The Website gardening123.com allows you to customize your gardening plant care. By creating an account, you will receive personalized plant-care information based on your geographic area. In addition, your account will allow you to:

  • Create a personalized journal of the plants you grow
  • Receive monthly care task reminders for your plants
  • Create your own garden designs
  • Receive monthly email newsletters with seasonal tips

Best of all, the site is free! It just takes time initially to enter all the plants in your garden, but once done, you are set to go!