Winter Pruning Guide
Pruning during the winter months can help improve your plants' shape, form and growth. Think of winter pruning as preventive maintenance. Many garden problems may be averted by pruning correctly during the formative years of trees and shrubs.
Benefits Of Pruning
Corrective winter pruning can help promote plant health in the garden. Remove dead and dying branches that have been injured by disease, severely infested by insects, or damaged by animals and severe weather. Remove any branches that rub together and damage the plant’s bark.
- Avoid topping trees during winter. Removing large branches during winter will leave stubs that can cause several plant health problems. It also can destroy the plant’s natural shape and promote suckering or development of weak branch structure.
- Take care to avoid shearing shrubs into tight geometrical forms that can adversely affect flowering. Altering a plant’s natural form is sometimes necessary if the plant needs to be confined or trained for a specific location, though shouldn't be done if it isn't needed.
- When plants are pruned correctly, it’s difficult to recognize that they have been pruned at all.
Proper pruning can help you in the garden by controlling plant size, keeping evergreens correctly proportioned or removing unnecessary branches, waterspouts, suckers, and undesirable fruiting structures that detract from the plant’s appearance. Winter pruning can also help make your garden landscape a safer place.
- Remove any dead trees and branches to keep your garden safe during winter wind, snow, and storms.
- It is recommended that you prune out weak or narrow-angled tree branches that overhang homes, parking areas, and sidewalks. Carefully check your landscape for any falling limbs that could cause injury to people, or create property damage.
- Eliminate all branches that can interfere with street lights, traffic signals, and overhead wires.
- Avoid pruning near electrical and utility wires. Utility companies or city maintenance workers will gladly prune these areas for you.
- Locate and prune branches that will obscure vision at traffic intersections.
- Keep your home safer by pruning shrubs or tree branches that obscure the entry points to your home.
Pruning Fruit Trees Vs. Evergreens
Prune during the late dormant season for best results. Pruning in late winter, just before spring growth starts, leaves fresh wounds exposed for only a short duration before new growth begins. Another advantage of dormant pruning is that it’s easier to see the structure of the tree and make pruning decisions.
- Prune apple trees, including flowering crabapples, mountain ash, hawthorns and shrub cotoneasters in late winter (January through April, depending on your climate zone).
- Spring or summer pruning increases chances for infection and spread of the bacterial disease such as fireblight.
- Trees and shrubs that bloom early in the growing season on last year’s growth like apricots, cherry, and lilac should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming.
- Those shrubs grown primarily for their foliage rather than showy flowers should be pruned in spring and before growth begins.
- Plants such as clematis and shrub roses should be pruned back to live wood.
- Prune hardier shrubs like spireas and hydrangeas to the first pair of buds above the ground.
- Evergreens (or conifers) usually require only minor pruning. Different types of evergreens should be pruned according to their individual growth patterns.
- Spruces and firs may be pruned during any season. Although it is best to prune them in late winter, before growth begins.
- Pines seldom need pruning. To promote more dense growth, you may want to remove up to two-thirds of the length of newly expanded candles. But, do not prune further back than the current year’s growth.
- Arborvitae, junipers, yews, and hemlocks grow continuously, so prune only to correct growth defects.
Mature hedges will need to be pruned more often than newly planted ones. Prune new growth back once the hedge reaches the desired height. Prune to within 2 inches of the last pruning. Hedges may need to be pruned twice a year, in spring and again in mid-summer to keep them dense and attractive. Properly pruned hedges will be wider at the base than at the top to allow all parts to receive sunlight.
Prune With The Correct Tools
Use the correct tools for winter pruning. Keep those tools well-maintained and sharp and they will improve their performance.
- Pruning shears are the most versatile tool for pruning. A good pair will cut branches up to 3/4 inches in diameter.
- Lopping shears are similar to pruning shears, but their long handles provide greater leverage needed to cut branches up to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Choose a pair with compound cutting blades.
- Hedge shears are made for pruning hedges, and nothing else.
- Limb saws are needed for cutting branches over 1 inch in diameter. Many types of saws are available. Choose tri-cut or razor tooth pruning saws to cut through larger branches up to 4 inches in diameter.
- Pole saws will provide an extended reach for higher branches. Fitted with a long and extendable handle they must be used carefully for a clean cut.
With right knowledge of what and when to prune, as well as what tools you’ll need to get the job done, you can prepare your landscaping for a flourishing spring.