Protesting Unnatural Shrub Pruning

I never like to speak unkindly of any gardening endeavor, but when shrubs are sheared tightly into ugly cones and basketball shapes, enough is enough.

Leafy (deciduous) shrubs can be pruned now in springtime, preferably before they leaf out fully. A little touch-up trimming can be done through the growing season. Evergreens are best pruned in May and June.

But the way shrubs are pruned is very important to their beauty. Shearing shrubs as though one was shearing a sheep results in a very unnatural appearance.

Hedge shears and gas or electric shears are poor choices to prune shrubs because they produce a too-tight leafy surface that is rarely found in nature.

Instead, use a hand-held pruning shears to selectively cut back branches and twigs in slightly varying lengths. This accomplishes the need to trim the shrub, or reduce its height, while maintaining a natural growth habit. Selectively pruning branches in an intentionally random fashion works well, and avoids the sheared ice-cream-cone or basketball look that detracts from most landscapes. Shearing is not the same as pruning.


There is a definite time and place for shearing. Formal hedges in the right location look beautiful when well-manicured and sheared to perfection. And Disneyland wouldn’t be the same without shrubs sheared to look like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.     Happy Gardening!