How to Prune a Bittersweet Vine


Both American (Celastrus scandens) and oriental bittersweet (C. orbiculatus) are vigorous, deciduous vines, but oriental bittersweet is listed as an invasive species in 21 states. American bittersweet, a native species, looks similar to oriental bittersweet but is actually becoming less and less common in its native habitat. Many people grow bittersweet or collect it in the wild to make its berry-laden branches into wreathes and incorporate its branches into dried flower arrangements. Both species are capable of overtaking and toppling trees, so prune the vines annually and extensively.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand-held pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Prune bittersweet regularly every fall when the berries are out and use the branches to make wreaths or incorporate them into dried flower arrangements for festive decorations.

  • Prune away diseased or dead branches. Prune out mature growth that is not producing as many flowers and/or berries. Prune these branches back to healthy wood.

  • Prune overgrown or elongated stems as close to the trunk and permanent branches as possible.

  • Leave enough blooming branches to cover the trellis, fence, arbor or other support structure and remove the rest. This is an especially good pruning method for bittersweet, which can grow very quickly in good soil and completely dominate a garden.

Tips & Warnings

  • There is no perfect time to prune bittersweet. It is convenient to prune in the fall when you are collecting branches for berries.
  • Grow bittersweet in poor soil to discourage rapid growth.
  • Learn to differentiate between American and oriental bittersweet before incorporating it into your garden. See Resource 1 for more information on identifying these very similar looking vines.
  • If you live in any of the 21 states where oriental bittersweet is listed as an invasive, do not plant it or encourage its growth; destroy this vine if it appears in your garden. If you collect branches from the woods to use in wreaths, etc., burn them when you no longer have use for them. Seeds from wreaths and arrangements thrown in the compost pile or discarded along a roadside will reproduce and kill all surrounding vegetation.

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  • Photo Credit bittersweet image by Alexey Stiop from
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