Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs

Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs

Bushes and shrubs are woody plants that are distinguished from trees and other plants by their multiple stems and shorter full-grown height. Bushes are also perennial, which refers to any plant that lives for more than two years. The terms bush and shrub refer to many types of plants including butterfly bushes, burning bushes, evergreen shrubs, flowering shrubs, landscaping shrubs, and lilac bushes. Because they are perennial, bushes and shrubs can grow to heights of fifteen to twenty feet tall depending on the particular variety of plant. Thus, bushes and shrubs that have become overgrown can become a problem. Cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs is therefore essential for maintaining the good health of the plant.

Assessing Specific Bush Needs

Many gardeners cut back bushes and shrubs to maintain the good health and attractive appearance of the plant. Shrubs and bushes that are left unpruned for too long of a period can become overgrown. Depending on the variety such as lilacs, an overgrowth will result in the bush or shrub producing fewer blooms and flowers. Because overgrown plants are also at an increased risk for disease and pest infestations, overgrown bushes and shrubs should be cut back as a way to renew or rejuvenate the plant. Pruning is also a good method for training a plant to grow in a certain direction or shape.

Assessing the specific needs of bushes and shrubs is crucial for successful pruning and maintenance. Each type of bush or shrub may have unique characteristics and growth patterns that dictate the ideal pruning techniques and timing. Some bushes, such as butterfly bushes or lilac bushes, may benefit from more aggressive pruning, even to the point of cutting the plant down to a few inches from the ground. On the other hand, certain evergreen shrubs may require more delicate pruning to maintain a desired shape and density. Additionally, some flowering shrubs may bloom on old wood, which thus requires pruning immediately after flowering to avoid removing potential flower buds for the following season. By thoroughly researching and understanding the specific needs of specific bushes and shrubs, gardeners can ensure appropriate care for each plant, thus maximizing the health and beauty of a garden.

When to Cut Back Overgrown Bushes

Although bushes and shrubs can be cut back at almost any time during the year, there are better and worse times recommended for pruning. The best time to prune most bushes and shrubs is in late winter or early spring-usually during the later half of March or the beginning of April-before new growths have formed after the dormant period. Avoid cutting off new shoots, buds, and blooms. Although not ideal, the second best time to prune an overgrown bush or shrub is at the end of the summer after the plant has finished growing for the year. Pruning in the late spring or early summer is not recommended because cutting off new growths can cause damage to the plant.

How to Cut Back Overgrown Bushes

Using the right tools is essential for pruning bushes and shrubs. Investing gardening shears or clippers is crucial for achieving clean and precise cuts. Dull or inadequate tools can result in jagged cuts that can harm the branches and create entry points for diseases or pests. Furthermore, using improper tools that are not designed for pruning can put unnecessary strain on both the plants and the gardener doing the pruning. Selecting tools that are appropriate for the size and thickness of the branches to be cut is important. Maintaining sharp and well-maintained tools not only ensures a smoother pruning process but also promotes the overall health and vitality of the plant by minimizing damage and allowing for proper healing of the cut branches.

Bushes and shrubs should ideally be pruned every year. However, gardeners should take a three year approach to cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs before pruning the entire plant annually. During the first year, remove one-third of the biggest and older branches starting at the bottom of the plant. Use a good pair of sharp gardening shears or clippers. Always make clean cuts at the base of a branch rather than in the middle or near the end to helps promote healthy regrowth and minimizes the risk of disease or pests entering the plant. During the second year, remove one-half of the oldest remaining branches as well as some of the new shoots. During the third and subsequent years, trim and shape the bush or shrub as desired. If you wish to forego the three year plan, some bushes like lilacs can be entirely trimmed to about one to three inches from the ground.

After initially cutting back an overgrown shrub or bush, continue to prune the plant annually to maintain it. Begin by removing large stems from the center and bottom of the bush. Then remove any old blooms or flowers that have died as well as any unwanted growths including overly tall branches, new shoots growing from the ground, and any branches sticking out from the main section of the plant. If you wish to shape your bush or shrub in a certain fashion, use gardening twine or a similar material for gently force branches to grow in a certain direction. Remember: the easiest way to maintain a healthy and attractive bush or shrub is to prune yearly in the early spring.

Other Factors to Consider

Additionally when cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs, consider the desired shape and size of the plant in relation to the overall aesthetics of a garden. Before making any cuts, envision the desired look of the bush or shrub and how the plant will fit within the surrounding landscape. Account for factors such as the natural growth habit of the plant, the available space in the garden, and how the bush complements other plants and structures. By carefully shaping and trimming the bush or shrub, gardeners can create a visually pleasing and harmonious garden design. Also be mindful of any potential obstructions the overgrown plant may be causing. Trimming away excessive growth not only improves the appearance of the plant but also prevents overshadowing or hindering the growth of nearby plants or encroaching upon structures such as fences, walkways, or windows. Striking the right balance between the size and shape of a bush or shrub and the surroundings will result in a well-manicured and cohesive garden landscape.


Bushes and shrubs are distinguished from other plants by their multiple stems and lower height. Because bushes and shrubs are perennial, some varieties can grow to heights of fifteen to twenty feet tall. Thus, cutting back overgrown bushes and shrubs is essential for maintaining the good health of the plant and an attractive appearance of the garden.

This post was originally published on April 15, 2012 and updated on May 13, 2023.


Proper Pruning Techniques:
Pruning Large, Overgrown Shrubs:
Types of Bushes and Shrubs:

Image Credits

Tips for Cutting Back Overgrown Bushes and Shrubs 2012 Heather Johnson
Overgrown Lilac Bush 2012 Heather Johnson

Written by Heather

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, homemaker, homeschooler, and mother.

New York Hot Dog Onion Sauce Recipe

New York Hot Dog Onion Sauce Recipe

Implantation Bleeding: A Positive Sign of Pregnancy

Implantation Bleeding: A Positive Sign of Pregnancy