How to Trim and Shape Bushes and Shrubs Like a Pro

We’re all for nature’s wild, carefree beauty. But when it comes to your front lawn, we say leave the sprawling foliage for the forest. By learning how to trim and shape your bushes and shrubs like a pro, you can give your home’s curb appeal a sophisticated look on a shoestring budget.

Are you working on a DIY exterior project? At brick&batten, we can help you see your plans come together before investing in materials. We’ll provide design expertise and realistic renderings with an easy-to-read resource list. Learn more about our virtual design service.

Make a Plan to Trim and Shape Your Bushes and Shrubs

Choose the Right Time of Year

The best time to trim your landscape plants depends on the type. You can perform light maintenance trims any time of the year, but if you’re significantly altering a non-flowering plant’s current shape, do it during the winter when the plant is dormant. But if you prefer to tackle the project when it’s warmer outside and when you can see the foliage growth pattern, you can trim your bush or shrub after the new growth is done forming in late summer or fall.

But for flowering bushes, you can follow these guidelines:

  • Shrubs that bloom in early spring: Cut right after they bloom
  • Summer-flowering plants: Cut in winter or early spring

Decide on a Shape

Although you’ll be altering nature in the trimming process, you still want to respect it. So choose a shape that complements your plant’s natural growth pattern. For example, if your bushes already grow in a boxy manner, choose a rectangular shape rather than a round shape. On the other end, plants that have fewer leaves towards the base make great candidates for a round cut.

Gather Your Materials

Just like with any DIY project, organizing all your materials from the start sets you up for success. Here’s a shopping list to get you started:

  • Hand pruner
  • Safety goggles
  • Thick gardening gloves
  • Tarp
  • Bags for trimmings
  • Optional: Four lawn stakes, string, electric hedge trimmer
Bushes in front of a home's front porch

Inspect Your Bushes and Begin Cutting

Start by laying down a tarp around your bushes. This can make clean up much easier. When you’re ready to start timing, begin with the top edges that you want to trim back. Make conservative cuts at first. Just like cutting hair, you can’t go back if you cut too short. But make sure you trim these branches back enough to let sunlight reach the inner branches so they can grow healthily as well. Cut above healthy new growth, and more new growth will arise from that spot.

However, if you want to encourage new growth near the base of the shrub, you’ll need to make deeper cuts near the base. Once you’re satisfied with the height, look around your bush or shrub and note any dead or diseased sections. You’ll want to cut these sections off at their base. We also suggest trimming excessive small branches at the base of a trunk or small limbs that grow vertically on thick branches. This type of growth can take away important nutrients from more dominant sections of the plant.

And of course, don’t forget to haul away your trimmings when you’re finished. No one wants to be known as the dreaded neighbor who leaves unsightly bags on the lawn to attract pests!

walkway lined with landscaping

Get Fancy With the Shapes

If you want to give your bushes a more formal look, you can get creative with your cuts. Trimming your shrubs to look like round topiaries can give off a quintessentially European vibe, and there’s nothing quite as charming as a cottage with pristine, rectangular boxwoods lining the front porch.

To trim and shape your bushes and shrubs in a rectangular pattern, grab four lawn stakes and place them around the four corners of the plant. Next, measure the desired height for your bushes and mark it on all of the stakes. Then, tie a string and connect it to the stakes at the marked level. Use the string as a marker for where to cut, and you should end up with clean, straight lines.

Cutting round shrubs is a whole different story. But contrary to a flat round circle, a round shrub shape is actually pretty forgiving. Bushes that are sparse at the bottom make great plants for round cuts. The trick is to use handheld pruning shears so you can have as much control as possible. Step back from the shrub after every few cuts so you can make sure you’re trimming it in a symmetrical round shape.

Just for Fun: Our Favorite Bushes and Shrubs

Before we go, we thought we’d give you some bonus tips on which low-maintenance shrubs and bushes can spruce up your home’s curb appeal (no pun intended).

  • Boxwood: This evergreen shrub as the prettiest oval-shaped leaves. They make great topiaries or hedges. You get the perk of a deep green bush without the hassle of shedding needles.
  • Hydrangea: When these beauties bloom, you’ll definitely want to pick a bouquet. If you’re a little impatient like us, you’ll love the speed Hydrangeas grow at. These hearty plants thrive in most climates.
  • Double Pink Althea: For most flowering bushes like lilacs or forsythias, you only get to enjoy the blooms for a couple of weeks out of the year. But double pink althea bushes typically bloom in June and keep sprouting out flowers until the first frost.
black traditional door

If you need help on an exterior design project, brick&batten can help. Contact us for more information on our virtual exterior design services.