Guidelines for Pruning Desert Shrubs

Pruning a purple desert shrub

Most plants will do their best if allowed to grow to their natural form and shape. Shearing and excessive pruning compromises the vigor and health of the plant, reduces blooming, and may shorten the life of the plant. 

Every time you shear a plant, you create wounds that stress the plant, requiring additional energy and water for the plant to recover. The most widely recommended technique for pruning is selective pruning. Unfortunately, this is not the most widely practiced method. Learn about selective pruning, and if you're unsure about your skills (or needs), discover the different types of landscape professionals, and what you need to know when hiring a landscape contractor

In the meantime, use the following tables as a guideline to determine the right time to prune for many common shrubs.

General Pruning Tips for Other Plants

Common Name Scientific Name Pruning Tips
Agave Agave sp. Avoid all pruning. Pruning wounds often lead to pest infestations. Most Agave species will die after blooming. Do not “pineapple” prune.
Ocotillo Fouquieria splendens Do not prune. Plant in an area that will accommodate mature size.
Red or yellow yucca  Hesperaloe parviflora  Pruning is not recommended. Dried flower stalks can be removed. Do not shear. 


Desert Spoon 

Yucca sp.

Dasylirion wheeleri

No pruning needed. Dry, old leaves can be “peeled” on some species. Can remove old flower stalks after blooming. Do not “pineapple prune”. Do not shear. 
Mexican Blue Palm Mediterranean Fan Palm Brahea armata Chamaerops linearis Cut dry or dead fronds. Do not top. 
Prickly Pear Opuntia sp. Plant in an area that will accommodate mature size. If needed, make pruning cuts at the joints. 
Conifers (pines, junipers, cypress)   During winter dormancy
Spring-blooming shrubs   After bloom is finished
Summer-blooming shrubs   During winter dormancy


  • Duffield, M.R. and W. D. Jones. 1992. Plants for Dry Climates. HPBooks, Los Angeles, California, ISBN 1-55561-176-1
  • Johnson, E.A. 1997. Pruning, Planting, and Care.  Ironwood Press, Tucson, Arizona, ISBN 0-9638236-5-1
  • Mielke, J. 1993.  Native Plants for Southwestern Landscapes. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas., ISBN 0-292-75147-8
  • Schuch, Dr. Ursula K., Ornamental Horticulture Specialist, Blooming Season and Pruning Recommendations of Some Common Shrubs For Low and Medium Elevations in Arizona, Plant Sciences Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ