To Prune or not to Prune

This is a great time of year to prune your trees and shrubs. The top three pruning tips for winter are:

  1. When the leaves are off the trees you have better access to the problem areas.
  2. Less stress for trees and shrubs when the plant is not actively growing.
  3. It is too early to start uncovering and clean up your perennials.

When the leaves are off the trees you have better access to the problem areas. Trees that drop their leaves are deciduous trees. Deciduous trees are easiest to prune in the fall or winter because you can really see what you need to get to. Things to look for on your deciduous trees are crossing branches, inverted crotches and dead wood. Crossing branches can be characterized as branches that are rubbing on other branches. Choose the branch that is the smallest and prune it all the way back to the next junction. Don’t just arbitrarily cut back a limb. If you must remove more than half of the branches material take it all the way back to the axial branch or main stem. Inverted crotches are the limbs that are angling toward the ground coming off the main branch. These limbs will be most likely to break off in high winds or ice storms. branch collar Removal of these limbs is best to be done all the way back to the main branch just below the branch collar. Dead wood can be removed at any time of the year and may actually be better spotted during the growing season. When the plant is dormant and you suspect that the limb is dead you can test it by trying to bend the limb toward the end. If the limb snaps easily it is dead if it flexes it is still alive.

Pruning during dormancy will be less stressful to the trees and shrubs. Conifers or ‘evergreens” can be pruned anytime of the year but will ‘weep” less in the winter as the sap is not flowing readily at this time. Trees and shrubs that flower in the early spring such as Redbuds, Dogwoods, and Magnolias should be pruned after they flower they flower but before they fully leaf out. Summer flowering trees and shrubs will set on their flower buds on new growth so dormant pruning will not alter flower production.

When we get those nice winter days that are unseasonably warm we all get the itch to work in the landscape. Warning even though it is nice today it could be freezing tomorrow! So you have to be careful, we recommend that you wait until after March 1st or closer to the middle of the month to start pruning back dead material of perennials. The old plant material of your perennials tends to help protect the plants along with the mulch. Instead of working on the perennials, get out the pruning equipment and shape up you trees and shrubs.

One last thing, if you are behind on your pruning only remove less than one-quarter of the plants crown. Certain shrubs will benefit from cutting way back, as a rule of thumb prune your trees a small amount each season and reap long-term benefits of healthier plants. Now, satisfy that cabin fever and get out and trim your trees and shrubs.

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