It’s tempting to go outside and give Mother Nature a hand with her presentation at this time of year. That’s especially true when it comes to the appearance of ornamental bushes, which can help transform houses into homes.

A few snips here and there might prevent some ornamentals from looking tired. But when to prune depends upon the plant.

“I think you can prune them (certain plants) back now,” says Susan Epstein of the Charleston Horticultural Society. “I would not do it too much beyond now, but the plants have enough time between now and our average first frost to harden off.”

Such plants include Lowcountry favorites like azalea, beautyberry, gardenia, hydrangea and more. Read on for tips.


Thinning should be done each year to reduce the number of branches at the outer edge, says Master Gardener Darren Sheriff. The popular non-flowering plant can be thinned anytime the temperature is above freezing. Thinning helps its interior leaves get enough light and air to thrive.


Prune the shrubs after they have finished flowering to remove irregular branches or spent flowers, says John Millman of Hyams Garden Center. They should be pruned by early September. Gardenias get pruned to control their shape and size, rather than to improve health. So, it’s not a plant that must be pruned each year.

“It’s very important to keep gardenias fertilized because it takes so much energy for the plant to bloom,” Millman says. “You want to make sure it has enough energy for the new growth.”


The plants should be pruned after flowering so they can develop “old wood” to support blossoms the following summer. “They really need to be tidied about now,” says Susan Epstein of the Horticutural Society. “If the blooms have turned brown, just get rid of them.” A hydrangea still will have time to develop stems that will support healthy blossoms next summer, she says.

Read a previous column by Amy Dabbs about pruning hydrangeas at postand


Prune oleanders early in spring so they will flower in summer, say Millman.

Do major pruning to the plant during fall and winter when it is dormant. Remove damaged and overgrown wood as well as dead flowers for larger blooms.

“Lose those sooner rather than later because they harbor insects and bring disease,” he says.

Do so early enough to allow new growth to harden before the frost.


The best time to prune azaleas is when the flowers are dying in late spring or early summer, says Sheriff. Cutting them back after then will remove flower buds and stops them from blooming the following spring, he says.

If, however, the bushes are out of control, adds Epstein, the best thing to do is cut them back now. Cutting them now won’t affect the number of blooms for more than one year.


It’s best to prune beautyberry late in winter or early in spring, Clemson Extension experts say.

When it comes to beautyberry, thin out the slower growing plants and cut the fast-growing ones to the ground.

Epstein says beautyberry can be cut down as low as about six inches.


Sasanquas should be cut back sometime between late February through the end of April, says Epstein.

Japonicas, however, probably still will have blooms until April, so they should not be cut back until about April or May, she says.

Tea olive

The plant rarely needs pruning because it naturally has an appealing shape, says Millman. To make the small-leafed ones formal hedges, major pruning should be done in May or June and again in November or December.