How to Deal With Overgrown Shrubs

An overgrown shrub against a brick wall.
  • 1-6 hours
  • Beginner
  • 75-125
What You'll Need
Hand pruners (bypass style)
Lopping shears
Hedge clippers/pruning shears
What You'll Need
Hand pruners (bypass style)
Lopping shears
Hedge clippers/pruning shears

Overgrown shrubs make your property look neglected, ill-kept and generally unattractive. You want to have clean, healthy-looking landscaping so your house is immediately more appealing, but wildly pruning your shrubs can cause more harm than good. Learn how to deal with overgrown shrubs the right way, and end up with landscaping that your neighbors will envy.

What You'll Need

Make sure you have the right tools for your shrubs, or you could wind up damaging the plant or making the job much harder on yourself. There are two basic types of hand pruners: anvil and bypass. Usually, the straight blades of bypass pruners make it easier for you to reach into shrubs to get hard-to-prune areas. You'll also want a heavier pair of lopping shears that can cut through thicker branches, up to 1 3/4 inches in diameter. The long handles and powerful cutting ability makes lopping shears a go-to choice for heavy shrub pruning. Get a pair of hedge clippers or standard pruning shears to work on shrubs with thin stems. Clippers make straight, even cuts on plant stems.

How to Prune

A handful of sticks pruned from a shrub.

Don't prune the top of your shrub unless it already looks great and you just want to clean it up a little. For an overgrown shrub that's getting out of control, you'll need to prune correctly. Start at the bottom and look for dead branches and growth around ground level that needs to be trimmed away. If you trim only the top of your shrubs, you'll end up with longer stems and the shrub will begin to look unhealthy and leggy over time.

When you prune your shrub at the right time of year, you’ll wind up with much better results. Prune in early spring, right before new growth. Pruning stimulates new growth, so it's best to do it just when that growth begins. The new growth will begin to appear quickly when you prune in early spring, covering up the areas where you had to prune and filling in the bare spots.

Before you prune your shrub, decide which technique to use and whether or not your shrub can tolerate it. There are two different ways to prune those overgrown areas, but both methods won't work for every shrub. Both are outlined below.


Pruning a shrub.

Use a more aggressive rejuvenation pruning technique if your shrub is badly overgrown and you want quick results. For this approach, you'll want to cut off all the old branches at or close to ground level. This may mean cutting away almost all of the plant, leaving very little behind. You'll end up with a badly-mangled shrub, but the shrub will soon respond by sending out new growth. Your ugly, overgrown shrub will be immediately gone, and once new growth begins it will start to look more attractive again.

However, there are just a few shrubs that can tolerate this type of aggressive pruning. Only deciduous shrubs will survive rejuvenation pruning. Fast-growing, hardy shrubs generally tolerate this type of pruning and thrive after a rejuvenation pruning. Honeysuckle, lilac, forsythia, and hydrangea will survive rejuvenation pruning. For every other shrub, including all evergreen shrubs, you'll have to take a slower approach.


Someone pruning a leafy shrub.

Most shrubs will require renewal pruning, which can take years to produce the results you want. You'll only cut away about one-third of the old branches on the shrub through this process, leaving the rest of the growth until you prune again next year. Cut away dead branches back to the crown or the main stem. This will help the shrub keep its shape and help you get rid of the excess growth.

Through renewal pruning, new shoots and growth will appear to make the shrub look more beautiful. Many flowering shrubs and evergreen shrubs respond well to renewal pruning. Shrubs that have been very neglected may take up to three years to completely prune because this process is slow. If you prune too much of your shrub away at one time, you'll kill it. That’s why you may be forced to keep some of that old growth until the shrub recovers from each pruning session.

Overgrown Shrubs

Dealing with overgrown shrubs is the hard part. Once you get your landscaping looking the way you want it to look, simple maintenance will keep those shrubs gorgeous for season after season to come. After you learn how to deal with the worst shrubs, it’s simple to maintain shrubs that already look good.