Top 15 Shrubs
Deciduous flowering shrubs require so little attention that most homeowners don't think about pruning them until they've become an overgrown tangle of stems. Then, pruning becomes an all-afternoon affair. But besides promoting healthy growth and controlling plant size and shape, a few minutes of pruning each year results in a benefit you might not suspect: a big increase in the number of flowers and ornamental fruit — the primary reasons we grow these plants. We're not talking backbreaking labor. "You should be able to keep up with annual maintenance pruning by spending 5 to 10 minutes with each shrub," says Denny Schrock, extension specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana.

When to Prune
The best time to prune depends on when the shrub forms its flower buds and when those buds open. Flowering shrubs fall into two categories: spring-blooming and summer-blooming.

Spring-flowering shrubs, such as lilac and forsythia, develop flower buds in the summer that will not open until the following year. Prune them immediately after flowering. If you prune too late, you will remove next year's developing buds.

Summer-flowering shrubs, such as rose-of-Sharon and oakleaf hydrangea, develop their buds during the spring growth period and the buds open into flowers that summer. Prune these shrubs during the dormant season — in late winter or early spring before the buds show green.

Set Goals
Before you make any pruning cuts, decide what you want to accomplish. With flowering shrubs, the goal is to enhance the natural form of the plant by selectively pruning branches. When done successfully, maintenance pruning won't be apparent at all.

Maintain health
Remove dead, damaged or diseased branches whenever you notice them. Prune out branches that cross and rub against other branches as well. Always cut back to the ground or to a live bud or branch to prevent further dieback.
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