Winter Pruning – Won’t That Hurt My Tree?

Kalie Larkin Expert Advice, Pruning 4 Comments

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some of that summer yard work done and out of the way during those “wasted” winter months? The good news is that you can! A majority of deciduous plant material can be pruned any time after there has been at least one hard freeze. Then not only is it convenient for you to get the pruning done but it can also be better for the trees & shrubs involved.

One of the main things we look to prune in winter is fruit trees. Fruit trees are one of the few mature trees that require some amount of pruning each year. This is especially true for any of our stone fruit type trees, they generally produce on last years wood and will bud out for more fruit than the tree is capable of sustaining. Apple trees produce on wood that is 2 years old and older on small outgrowths called spurs. If the pruner is not careful to leave these spurs they can end up with a good looking tree that will not be producing any fruit for the next year or two.

The other type of tree we look to prune are those that have a high sap-flow in spring. Namely your birch, maple and elm trees. Please note, these trees will not suffer damage by being pruned in the spring. The reason we try to prune them in the winter is because of the sticky sap. This sap seeps out of pruning cuts and drips down to make a sticky mess on anything left beneath.

When it comes to winter pruning for shrubs there are a few rules of thumb. The first is to trim those plants that will flower in the summer months or those grown mostly for their foliage: burning bush, dogwood, ninebark, barberry, honeysuckle and peashrub to name a few.  The second rule is to look for shrubs which might need rejuvenation pruning, aka, flush cutting. Good candidates would be an old lilac that has a lot of large/ dead wood in the middle or a pussywillow that has completely taken over the space it was placed in. A well timed rejuvenation prune will maximize the next years growth while minimizing the impact of the missing plant. Lastly we do not recommend trimming most evergreens during the winter as they will not go fully dormant and will then be vulnerable to tip burn.

Taking time to prune in the winter can give us homeowners a significant head start on our spring yard work. It can also be more cost effective as off-season pricing goes into effect throughout January, February and most of March. If you think you might be interested in getting a jumpstart on your workload or even if you just have a question about timing please feel free to give our office a call at (208)523-5296!

Comments 4

  1. I had no idea that the best time to prune fruit trees is in the winter. I’ll have to make sure to stop pruning my apple tree in the spring. Thanks for the information about how it can also be cheaper to get a tree trimming company in the winter.

  2. Hey this is great article. Not many people know when the best time to prune their trees, but we actually start making a lot of phone calls for tree pruning work in the winter time. I have been a charlotte nc arborist and tree service provider in the charlotte area for a long time now, and we did a big educational push with our community to help them take care of their trees. Great post. Glad I bumped into this.

  3. I loved when you mentioned how there are some shrubs that need “rejuvenation” pruning. It is important to remember that understanding how your trees work can help you maintain them looking great. I can see how anyone looking into this would also want to consult with a professional in order to find the best way to keep your trees healthy.

  4. Good point about the trees that have a high sap flow in the spring. Not only would it be easier to prune those in the winter but typically most people are not doing much in terms of yard work at that time anyway.

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