Winter Tree Pruning Advice

Winter is the best time to prune many landscape trees. Pruning done during winter dormancy puts minimal stress on trees. What little stress they do experience is quickly overcome by the burst of spring growth as the trees come out of dormancy. In mild climates, you can begin to prune as early as midwinter, while you may want to wait until later winter in areas with more severe freezes and snow events. The key is just to get the pruning finished before the buds begin to open on the trees.

Which Trees Thrive with Winter Pruning?

Both evergreen and deciduous trees respond well when pruned during winter dormancy or semi-dormancy. The only exceptions are tree varieties that are grown for their flowers or fruit. For these tree varieties, prune lightly to remove damaged limbs in late winter, but do the bulk of your pruning after the flowering or fruiting season is over.

What Is the Most Important Pruning Task?

The removal of dead, damaged, or diseased branches should be the one task that you perform on every tree in your landscape. If a branch is obviously dead or damaged, cut it off the tree. Make the cut at the base of the branch, where it adjoins with the trunk or with a main lateral branch. If you aren't sure whether to remove a branch, tie a piece of brightly colored flagging tape to it. This makes it easier to find the branch once the tree begins to leaf out. If the branch seems to be struggling, then you can remove it at this time.

Should the Canopy Be Opened up?

Late winter pruning is a good time to make sure there will be plenty of air circulation and room for light to penetrate the canopy once the tree is again in full leaf. If two branches are crossed and rubbing together, then one branch needs to be removed. Branches that grow straight up vertically from a horizontal lateral branch should also be removed, A tree with good form has a single vertical leader branch with a well-balanced framework of lateral branches emerging from it. By removing crossed branches and excess leaders, the canopy will be opened up for better spring and summer growth.

After pruning, dispose of any clippings in case the old branches and twigs are harboring any insect pests. For more help, contact a tree trimming service in your area.