Winter Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs

Winter Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs
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Winter Pruning Guide for Trees and Shrubs

Tips for Shaping Your Trees and Shrubs

Pruning your trees and shrubs is a gardening task that many gardeners are fearful of. It feels like the wrong cut will be catastrophic for your plant. The reality is that the tree will be less stressed with winter pruning and so will you.

Why Prune in the Winter?

The big advantage of winter pruning is you can see what you are doing, as there are no leaves to hide the branches.  If you are really intimidated, you can always hire a tree or landscape service to do the pruning for you. That said, winter pruning is certainly within the scope of the average gardener. 

The only garden supplies needed for pruning are a good pair of pruning shears that are clean and sharp. If you have a tree or shrub with larger diameter branches, you may also need a pair of loppers

There are some trees that need to be pruned in the winter, including delicious apple trees. The pruning will stimulate the tree to maximize the amount of fruit produced. Of course, you will always want to prune any dead branches, broken branches or diseased branches. 

Any compromised branch will be a safety hazard for your property. These branches are weak and vulnerable to the winter winds as well as the weight of the snow and ice. They should be removed at the earliest opportunity. 

In the case of diseased trees, by removing the areas that are affected, you will prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the tree involved as well as other nearby trees. This type of pruning isn’t as stressful because you know just where to cut. 

Just make your cut above a bud, remembering that the new branch will grow in the direction that the bud faces. Avoid a bud that will cause the branch to grow toward the inside of the tree or shrub. Make your cut at an angle cutting about ¼ inch away from the bud to allow water to drain away from the bud.

Should You Winter Prune Spring Flowering Buds and Trees? 

The spring flowering trees and bushes have already developed their flower buds. If you prune in the winter, you will prune away most, if not all, the flower buds for the coming season. We do not recommend pruning spring flowering buds and trees until they have bloomed and established. 

Additional Tips

Did you know that you could use the cuttings to force early blooms indoors? Forsythia is a great shrub for forcing in the winter and the bright yellow flowers will be more than welcome on a dreary winter day. 

You could also try to root the branches that you have pruned. With just a few indoor gardening supplies — like grow lights and some rooting hormone — you could have several new plants to use in your landscape or to give to friends and family. A good choice for this is the pussy willow.

Is It OK to Prune in the Spring and Summer?

The answer is yes, spring and summer are still a good time to prune. It just can be a little more challenging than in the winter. Besides pruning after the spring blossoms are over, you will always prune dead or damaged branches. Here are a few other reasons to prune, including:

  • Avoid Overgrowth and Encroachment — As beautiful as your shrubs and trees might be, there will likely come a time where you must cut them back when they grow too wide or too tall. It is also a good idea to prune a plant that is encroaching on a sidewalk or driveway.
  • Improve the View — As a tree or shrub grows, you may want to prune lower branches to improve the view and to make lawn maintenance easier.  Mowing the lawn is hard enough without those pesky lower branches getting in your way.
  • Provide Space for Growth — Sometimes, a tree or bush’s growth can make it too dense. You may need to prune to allow more air and light to reach the inner branches.
  • Improve the Shape — If you have a hedge, like boxwood or a privet hedge, you pretty much have to shape them every year to keep the look you’re going for. You may also want to shape your other shrubs or trees once you can see how they look after they have leafed out.