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Wednesday, 14 February 2018 09:10

Winter Pruning

Written by  Nancy Forster
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Dormant pruning is an important part of landscape maintenance to enhance plant life, vigor and aesthetics of trees and shrubs. We know it can be chilly in the winter months but it’s the best time of year to prune your deciduous plants. When there is a mild, sunny day, grab your pruners, and take a look at your trees and shrubs.

According to the supervisor of plant health care at the Chicago Botanic Garden, 90 percent of deciduous pruning can be done in the winter. "As soon as trees and shrubs go into dormancy, pruning can begin," he said. "And you can prune up to the time when buds begin to plump up." From mid-November to mid-March, you can shape and thin your deciduous plants in preparation for the spring season ahead. Evergreens, in most situations, should be pruned in the growing season, since they never become fully dormant and may suffer tip burn if pruned in the winter.

You may be wondering, what are the advantages to dormant pruning. See five advantages from Why Good Nature that dormant pruning offers.

1. During the winter, when most plants are dormant, the many diseases and insects that can potentially invade pruning cuts are also dormant.

2. After leaves have fallen, it is much easier to see the plants overall form and structure. Damaged and diseased branches are more readily apparent when not obscured by foliage.

3. Pruning before dormancy can stimulate new growth that may not harden off before the cold weather. This is not a concern during the winter.

4. Dormant pruning is good for your plants, leaving them with extra root and energy reserves to quickly heal wounds and support vigorous spring growth and flowering.

5. Dormant pruning is also good for you, giving you a reason to go outside on a mild winter day to enjoy your landscape

If you’re ready to tackle the pruning challenge here are the steps to follow:

Start with removing all dead or diseased wood.

Second, remove all suckers and water sprouts. Suckers are straight, unbranched stems that sprout from the base of a tree. Water sprouts are similar stems, but grow at right angles to the branches. Both of these branches will not grow into nice natural-looking branches.

Remove crossing or rubbing branches

Begin with the largest branches and slowly work towards the smallest branches. 

Thin the canopy

Starting in the middle work your way to the exterior. Thin the branches that create the dense mass of the tree/shrub. 

This pruning will increase air circulation while accentuating the structure of the plant. Do not remove more than one-quarter of the plant in a season as that will foster sucker growth. Thinning a canopy is essential for crabapple trees and hawthorns which are prone to fungal disease. 

Keep an eye out for insect problems & disease.

Pruning is the perfect time to look for masses of eggs such as caterpillars, gypsy moths, and tussock moths. If these are visible remove them by hand or prune them to protect the plant for insect damage in the spring. Also look for unusual open lesions or darkened areas of tree possible symptoms of canker and disease.


Take your time
Pruning is not a race, the more methodical and patient you are the more happy you will be with the result. It’s easier to go back and take more off than work too fast and take too much off from the beginning.

Prune back to a bud of branch

Do not leave a stub or open ends that result from shearing off the top of a plant. Cut a branch above the bud, taking into account a new branch will grow from that bud. Ideally the bud faces outward, encouraging growth towards the exterior of the plant. 

Prune with a purpose.

Most deciduous pruning should encourage a natural style, which means that low-branching trees are not limbed up, tall shrubs are not sheared or topped to make them shorter, and the natural outline of a plant is maintained. Pruning should highlight the plant’s natural features and if done well will look as if you didn’t do it! 

Disinfect your tools.

Clean tools with a 10 percent solution of rubbing alcohol and water (approximately 2 tablespoons of alcohol to 1 cup of water) which helps prevent the spread of disease from cut to cut as you prune. 

Safety first!

Wear eye protection when you prune as you can easily get poked in the eye. Know your limits as tree work can be dangerous. 

If you need to prune large trees or use a chainsaw, consider seeking professional help.

Source: Why Good Nature

Source: Chicago Botanic Garden

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