By O’Bryan, Horticulturalist
Some may think caring for your landscape is only beneficial during the warmer months, but that is not necessarily true. Pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is generally better in late winter while the plant is dormant. Of course, not all deciduous trees and shrubs will benefit from a winter pruning, but a pretty large portion of them will, including most ornamentals.
Pruning in winter has several benefits for trees. Before pruning, look for dead and diseased limbs, areas that need to fill out and of course, crossed limbs.
When trees don’t have their leaves, it is easier to identify problems within the canopy. Look at the shape the tree is growing. Do you like it? Prune the tree back to where you think it might look better. When you have identified the diseased and dead branches, cut them out. This will automatically help the tree become healthier.
Check out the inner canopy. Limbs should not cross in any way as this will cause problems when the tree is larger. All limbs should be growing up and outward for a beautiful looking tree.
But pruning out crossed limbs is not only for the looks of the tree but also for the overall health of the plant. If limbs cross, over time they will rub against one another and damage the bark, opening it up to disease. When two cross, prune out the limb that is growing inward, toward the middle of the tree. If they are both growing outward, prune the smaller one, for convenience sake.
The main purpose of pruning shrubs in late winter is the flush of growth that happens when the warm weather hits. Because of this flush of growth, a heavy pruning can refresh an old, tired deciduous shrub. Shrubs like Spirea, Forsythia and Weigela can be pruned back to the ground if need be. Others should be a little more carefully pruned, like Hydrangea which should never be pruned after August 1st.
There are plenty of shrubs that will benefit from this type of pruning but there are some to avoid such as hydrangeas and early blooming shrubs as you will lose the blooms that were set the year prior. Be advised that heavily pruning an evergreen will not have the same effect as done with deciduous shrubs.
Follow the Rules
There are some rules to follow when pruning in your own landscape. First and most important to remember is to prune after the threat of harsh winter has passed. This will ensure the plant will not be damaged in heavy frost conditions.
If you have early blooming trees, weigh the outcomes. If you prune in late winter, the tree will get a good flush of new growth when the leaves pop, but you will lose the flowers that were on everything you pruned off.
When pruning a large limb, take it in steps. Take off as much bulk as you can before getting to the large part near the tree. When approaching the collar of the branch (the part that connects to the tree), make a cut underneath the tree first and then come from the top, cutting as close to the collar as possible, without cutting the collar itself. This should ensure that the tree will heal nicely and keep disease at bay.
When pruning trees and shrubs that flower, the general rule is to prune right after blooming. This will ensure no blooms are cut off nor set buds waiting for their turn next year.
Use the Tools
There are many ways to prune a plant and many tools in which to do it. Arm yourself with some of these basic tools and you will be prepared for whatever care your plants need.
Pruners – Hand pruners are great for smaller tasks. Use these when you have smaller canes and branches. Check out the different varieties on our website here.
Pruning Saw – This little hand held saw is great for tackling twigs and branches that the pruners can’t get easily.
Loppers – Loppers are larger in both the blades and handles. These two features help the user get the leverage needed to tackle larger branches that hand pruners can’t get.
These handy tools work great when pruning, but when you need to do a heavy pruning, try an electric hedge trimmer. I use these on our Spirea bushes every spring.
Maintaining and beautifying your home landscape is important work, not just for the plants but for the person as well. Getting out into the elements after a long winter and doing some physical work can make even the grumpiest person perk up. Your plants will thank you for the haircut as well.