Trim Your Burning Bush WAY BACK!!

Last updated : 13 February 2015

Mike shows you how to trim your Burning Bush

The compact variety can grow to 12 tall or taller, but at the same time I’ve kept mine in my landscape trimmed to about 42″ for years.  Burning Bush only puts out one really hard push of new growth each year in the spring.  So if you trim your Burning Bush after that happens it will pretty much stay at the size that you want it forever.

More than three years later, here’s what that burning bush looks like now…

Burning bush after being trimmed way back


  1. KimmieJo says

    I did not need to trim my burning bush as the deer came in and did it for me!! The bear came in last night and really pruned my plum tree too! (ARRRGH!) SOO I will be busy picking what is left of the plums to day. We live in beautiful country but the wild animals take over as well on my plants and trees.

    • Kathleen O'Meal says

      Mike, First of all, thank you isnt nearly enough and yes I sent out your site to a lot of folks today. My yews took a hit last winter and didnt green out until this month a little on the top…nothing much below….I fertilized it well last year and they are up there in age but were absolutely beautiful…..couldnt take the horrible cold along great lakes last winter….

      is there anything I can do for these or is it a better idea to just take them up and start fresh with a youngun?…this bis a hard…my dad planted those and they have always looked fabulous and we hate to take them up…but they are not looking too great…

      • says

        Kathleen, before you dig them out, cut them back as hard as you have to this winter. Don’t fertilize next year, just let them recover on their own. The following year they should look really good. It will take them two years to come back, but they’ll be awesome!

  2. Rush46 says

    Thanks for the confirmation. Recently, I pruned two loropetalum bushes at the front of our home about 50% down. I have several others around the yard so I waited to see what the response would be. I did this in early August, the hottest time of the year here in Florida. About three weeks later there was new growth coming from the woody part of the plants. So I went ahead and pruned another 10 plants in a similar fashion. Six more to go and I will be done. It just took a little courage to get started. Thanks again.

    • says


      You’re living proof that it works, but it always best to do this kind of pruning when the plants are dormant, or as close to dormant as they get.

      • Lori says

        I cut back 2 loropetalums last Oct., tomorrow will be April 1st. I still don’t have any growth on either shrub, not leaves or blooms. I’ve had them for about 8 years and they have always been VERY hardy. I have to trim them every year, but this time I went shorter (about 50%, from approx. 7′ to 4′). Do you think they’re dead or is there hope? It seems like I should already be seeing blooms and I don’t even have leaves.

        • says


          All you have to do is do a scratch test to know for sure. This is how you test to see if a plant, or a branch on a plant has died. Just scratch the bark of your plants with your finger nail. If the tissue below the bark is green and firm your plants are fine. If the tissue is brown and mushy that part of the plant is dead.

  3. B's Garden (becky) says

    Hi Mike; Excellent garden tip on heavy pruning! With pruning, sometimes its best to just “Have NO Fear”!

    • says

      Becky, you’re right. You have to make that decision that the plant offers nothing to your landscape in its present condition, and if heavy pruning works (and it usually does) you are saving a plant that otherwise would be tossed away.

  4. Cathy says

    We transplanted a rhododendrom and it looks pretty sad. Thanks for your suggestion re pruning after a hard freeze. We’ll cut it ‘way back and hopefully it will come back again.

    • says

      Cathy, make sure that Rhododendron is not planted too deep and that it is not planted in heavy clay soil or over watered. They need water, but not near as much as other plants and they can not tolerate wet roots. It will kill them. They like to be planted high and dry.

      • George says

        Mike; I have a rotadendium (spelling) that is 8′ tall and spreads about 6′ in diameter. I want to cut it down to about 4′ x 3′. Is this possible and when?

        • says


          It is possible and the best time to do it as soon as the plants freeze for the winter. There is some risk involved, just like surgery on me or you. But if were me I’d take that chance and cut it down.

  5. Lola Bradley says

    Can you transplant new growth near the bottom of an old Crepe Myrtle tree? The roots are not extended very far from the tree.

  6. Brenda & David says

    Love your videos Mike! They are very helpful. Keep ’em coming! Can we have some Oleander pruning tips? (Tomball, TX)

    • says

      Jeannie, I’m not sure what kind of actual gardening you’re interested in. is loaded with all kinds of free gardening information as is my newsletter and videos. But I am a little taken back by your question. I’ve been giving away free gardening information online for over 10 years now, I’ve invested at least 10,000 hours of my own time sitting at this computer sharing my knowledge with strangers all over the world and I get the impression you think I’m stingy. Hmmmm. You don’t have to buy my books, as a matter of fact you can even unsubscribe from my newsletter if you like.

  7. SUSAN says

    Thank you for the info. Also, I was wondering how much you can prune a circular cedar bush? It appears to have only bare branches in the middle of the bush. Will it come back if
    I were to cut it way back? It is by the garage door and is beginning to hang over into the entrance.

    • says

      Susan, if you cut an evergreen way back into that dead wood in the center of the plant it will take a long time to come back. But actually that wood in the middle of the plant isn’t dead, its just starved for sunlight. But if you cut this plant back that hard it will be very slow to come back. If it were mine I’d replace it. But if you’re going to do that you have little to lose by cutting it back first. But it will be at least a year before it looks any better at all.

  8. Shawn M. says

    Great information, I didn’t think I could cut them that hard. Now I can tackle that row along my drive.
    Thank you!

  9. Tina says

    I love your videos, thank you for sharing with us. I always learn something new. Thank you again for all your efforts.

    Tina Boldt

  10. Anita Lueck..I really enjoy your 'lessons' and I do try to follow. I can't wait to trim my Burning Bush. I have it on a corner and looking like it could use a 'shave'. Thanks for sharing. says

    oops typed in the wrong space. However, it is worth thanking you again for your ‘tutorials’. I look forward to seeing how to garden properly. You always seem to talk about something I am needing help with.

    • Kathy says

      All of Mike’s gardening videos are found on his blog at
      Scroll down the page just a little bit to see the title of the Burning Bush pruning video with the
      title “Trim Your Burning Bush WAY BACK!!”. Click on the title to see the video.

      Kathy Anderson
      Mike’s Assistant

  11. martin says

    Thanks for the vid – great info! What do you do with the waste material, compost or burn it? There must quite a lot let after that hedge was cut?

    • says

      Martin, of course composting the smaller branches would be a great idea. The larger branches would take much longer, but at my new nursery I am clearing some space to plant in, and anything less than 1-1/2″ in diamter goes onto a brush pile that will eventually compost and the larger wood goes into a firewood pile. It will take a long time for that brush pile to compost, but all I have is time and in the meantime I use it as a barrier to discourage snowmobiles and 4 wheelers.

  12. Ginger says

    Wow, this is a good video! My neighbors burning bushes are wicked tall. I bet they would love to know you can cut them way back. Thanks!

  13. karen says

    That’s pretty severe pruning! I’d like to know if there’s a danger of just leaving a burning bush alone – mine is spectacular – easily 10 feet in diameter. I have a huge yard, so I welcome very large accents. It is very beautiful when it turns color in fall, and is perfectly filled out all the way around. I worry though, that it’s going to do what a butterfly bush I had did… it grew so large that it cracked down the middle of the root ball and after severe pruning would not come back in the least. Perhaps water got down into the base and it rotted. I don’t really know. Any ideas of what the outer limits are?

    • says

      Karen, I don’t think there is a downside to letting burning bush grow large. Should they ever get broken down by snow load or something else I’m sure some pruning would make them nice again.

  14. Carle, Bridgman, MI says

    Good to know. I love the burning bushes and they’ve gotten monsterous over the years. Wasn’t quite sure how much I could cut them back, and now I know.

    Thanks Mike.

    May you and yours be well,


  15. Barbara says

    Good information.This is really good to know that you can cut the burning bush back and reshape it without doing permanent damage to it. Thanks Mike.

  16. Jamie Parrish says

    Thank you Mike,

    Very informative. I have a very unruly variagated privot that I am going to try this on in November.

    Really enjoy your newsletters

    Jamie Parrish
    Blanchard, OK

  17. Albert McBee says

    Excellent! I have been thinking about cutting an overgrown forsythia back a little to control it’s ranging habit. This video has given me the release to chop it about halfway up…

    Thanks, Mike!

    • says

      Cheryl, quick story about sprirea. I had three in my landscape that just grew way too much for the area that they were in and I really no longer wanted them. So I went out with my chainsaw and cut them along with some evergreens that I didn’t want right to the ground. I mean as close to the ground as I could get them. I did this right before Kevin left for college and asked him to dig out the stumps for me. He dug out all of the evergreen stumps but didn’t see the sprirea stumps. That’s how low I cut them! So anyway I didn’t even realize that he didn’t dig them out until one day I walked around the house and noticed three of the most compact spirea that I’ve ever seen. I cut them clear to the ground and forgot about them and they grew back really nice and tight a full.

      So yes, sprirea respond really well to heavy pruning. Do them when they are dormant.

  18. Ipf says

    I loved this video! It is the best way for us novices to learn! Yaay!! I actually learned something!! But I gotta tell you, I trimmed 3 little burning bushes I planted right on the front of my house & plan on trimming them as they show growth next yr cause I don’t want them to grow bigger than 3-4 foot. Am I making a mistake planning this?

    • says

      Ipf, let them completely flush out with new growth before you prune next spring. If you prune them too early they’ll just grow right back. I had a couple of Burning Bush at my other house that I kept at 40″ tall for 16 years. As soon as I moved out every plant in the landscape grew completely out of control because of a lack of hard pruning.

  19. Daid Jensen says

    Amen, I trim at the end of March as the snow melts here in Michigan. Each year I trimmed back almost all the new growth from the previous year. The burning bushes gradually got taller and taller. Finally I decided that even if it killed them I had to get control of them; so, about five years ago I wacked them off at about knee high. It didn’t bother them one bit. This summer near the end of July I decided that a little light trimming would make them much neater in appearance. It didn’t seem to have any negative effects although I do worry about disease when I leave an open wound that time of year.

  20. Darlene says

    This reminds me of when my mother asked me about trimming her boxwoods. I told her to wait until late fall and take it easy. She cut them back HARD in the middle of the summer. Result-they ended up looking like a fresh, new planting of boxwoods! A lot easier than starting all over.

  21. Chris says


    Thanks for yet another great, free, tip. I almost always tune into your tips. From one landscaper to another – thanks a lot. -Chris

  22. alyson says

    My husband severely cut an old fashion rose last month (August) so he could paint. Boy did he get it from me. But it has forgiven him and is coming back beautifully. So he is forgiven.

    • says

      Kelli, Blue Spruce and most other conifers are a bit of a different animal. If you prune them hard like I did you will remove the main leader and end up with a very large blue spruce shrub, probably not what you want. They can be kept smaller through regular pruning each year, but if they get too large its really not practical to try and trim them back a lot.

  23. Linda says

    I thoroughly enjoy your videos. Can I do the same “heavy pruning” with a privet hedge that has grown 12-15 feet high? It has many thick “trunks.” I bought a chain saw and took out 1/3 of the thickest trunks on 3 bushes this past spring, but was afraid to go further. I have 10 privets in a hedge. When I pruned in years past, I apparently pruned at the wrong time. The result was many “witches brooms” with multiple branches coming out from the trunks I cut. The branches on the witches brooms had 5-7 branches that all got tall, lanky, and actually twisted. Can you give me guidance on when and how to trim the privets? I’d like to keep them about 8 feet tall to serve as a screen between my yard and my neighbor’s yard. Thanks so much and keep those videos coming.

    • says

      Linda, the privet can be pruned pretty hard when they are dormant. Then come spring as they start to put on a lot of new growth just keep that trimmed to the desired height and they should be fine. When you prune most plants hard they come back with a few unruly branches. The quicker you stop those from growing out of control the better.

  24. Doni Whitley says

    Thank you Mike!
    I’ve been amazed with the results I’ve had by following your advise on pruning my plants. Tou have truely given me the answers for so many questions concerning my gardening, but my shears and I have been set free. The growth and control your advice has afforded has been
    Thank you for this great site! Keep’em coming.

  25. Roy says

    I was wondering about rose bushes. I live in Idaho, the Boise area. How far back can I cut a rose bush and when should I do it?

  26. Bernice Hinkle says

    Thanks Mike..very interesting, you sure have taken away much of my fear of plant whacking through the videos.

    Do you have any tips on keeping arborvitae ,etc under control? We live in a Mobile Home court and ours are too tall now.

    bernice Hinkle

  27. Jill Murley says

    I really enjoy your messages and look forward to them. I read them all and just waiting time until I can take advantage of plant sales. I am into herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes and wish I knew more. Maybe you can inspire me more.

  28. KAY says

    I’d suggest waiting to prune the burning bush until late winter, that way you don’t have to look at the ugly stumps for six months.

    • Alblueheron says

      I don’t know if the snowball bush will work with this. I had one in NY that I tried trimming and it just went rank. Last week I had to remove a huge (>90 foot tall, five trunks) white pine and the arborist cut my snowball bush to the ground. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

  29. Peggy says

    Loved this video Just planted burning bushes last month and they are really growing. Do I need to do anything with the bush this year?

  30. Pat Tucker says

    I have a burning bush that doesn’t seem to grow but, it seems healthy and green.
    Is there anything special I can do for this plant? It’s been planted in this same spot
    for about 4 yrs. It gets full sun. Should I move it? It’s about 3ft tall.
    Whedn I watched your video on pruning burning bushes on new something was wrong
    with mine. Excellent video!!!

    • Amsale says

      Hi Pat,

      May be you need to transfer it in a bigger pot. In any case plants planted in pots stay do not grow as much as those planted in the ground.

  31. Anonymous says

    Can English Boxwod be cut back the same way?
    The boxwood have been in front of my house for 35 years and never been trimmed. The original plants came from Woodrow Wilson’s home in Staunton, Va and i don’t want to damage mine! (My mom took a tour there when they were trimming the boxwood and picked up a few snippets!)

  32. Bonnie Solie says

    Does this apply to the Smoke Bush? I have to wacked on it during the summer so it doesn’t grow out on the drive way. It seems to just keep going. Should I give it a good prune this winter?

  33. Anonymous says

    Can i do the same cutting with my supposed to be dwarf Korean Lilac that has grown enormously in my front lawn? When is the best time to cut it and do I need to use a chain saw?

  34. Bonnie Brocklehurst says

    Hi Make

    Thanks for the instructions for cutting back shubs. I thought that Burning Bush was so pretty, it would never occur to me to cut it back like that, however I know it is probably really good for the plant.

    Thanks again…


    • PJ Sweethome says

      I think the cut back shrub is pretty ugly, but Mike’s right. If that’s what needs to be done to keep it in bounds.. However….I prefer to do it late winter or early spring, just before leaf break. The less time I have to look at all those stumps, the better.

      • says

        Deborah, yes, during the dormancy period you can cut most shrubs back pretty hard. Evergreens are going to be slow to fill back in, but in most cases they do.

      • says

        Norm, as close as I can tell the invasive plant is the standard burning bush, Euonymus Alatus, not the more common dwarf Burning Bush, Euonymus Alatus compacta. I know there is a lot of buzz about this online, but around here they seldom seed themselves. Certainly now where near at the rate that maple trees and other plants do.


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