As winter starts to settle in across southern Connecticut, you may be wondering if it’s too late to prune your trees this year. Can trees be pruned in winter, or do you need to wait until next spring? What’s the best time of year to prune trees? Does it even matter?
We answer all those questions and more in this article on the best timing for tree pruning.
Can you prune trees in winter?
Yes, you can! Winter is the dormant season for most plants and trees, which makes it an ideal time for pruning.
Cold temperatures and short daylight hours usher in dormancy and, like hibernating animals, trees and shrubs turn their energy use down to its lowest setting and settle in to snooze until spring.
You may associate winter with staying inside and doing your own bit of hibernating, but arborists take advantage of the season to work on trees. In fact, we are just as busy during the winter months as we are during the summer.
Does winter weather affect when you can prune?
Of course, reputable companies don’t work when winter conditions are hazardous to people OR trees! When temperatures drop to dangerously low digits, when heavy snow builds up in trees, or when freezing and thawing cycles create ice loads in trees and atop roads, you have to wait them out.
Protecting your property and your trees is of primary importance, so we take no risks in bad weather conditions.
Why is winter such a good time to prune trees?
Late winter, when fall is a memory and before spring growth starts, is generally the best time for pruning.
There are a number of reasons why winter pruning is ideal. For example:
- It’s easy to see the structure of deciduous trees for crown reduction or shaping
- Warm-season insects and pathogens aren’t active, so they can’t spread to your pruned trees (in fact, oaks and elm trees shouldn’t be pruned at all during warmer weather because of the threat of spreading deadly oak wilt and Dutch elm disease)
- The sap isn’t running through trees, so trees won’t bleed from pruning cuts
- Trees will start sealing off winter pruning wounds as soon as they emerge from dormancy, giving them a head start before warmer temperatures bring the full flush of spring growth and the first wave of insects
Late winter pruning is especially beneficial for fruiting trees, such as apple, pear, and peach. This is when fruit trees are best pruned to increase fruit production.
Is there anything that I shouldn’t prune in winter?
Yes! Before you sharpen your tools, check your tree or shrub species. Some species should be pruned during the growing season.
Right after they finish flowering, early spring-blooming species set buds for the following year’s flowering. This means they flower on what’s called “old” wood. Species commonly found in Connecticut that bloom from old wood include:
- Dogwood (Cornus)
- Lilac (Syringa)
You’ll want to prune these species just after their flowering finishes, while they’re actively growing, and before they set their buds for next spring’s show.
But isn’t it more common to prune trees in spring or summer?
More people probably prune during the growing season simply because that’s when they think about it. As leaves fill in, branch tips elongate, and the full size and shape of the tree become apparent, homeowners start to think “Hmmm, maybe I should prune that tree this year…”
Pruning during the growing season is usually just fine. In fact, spring and summer pruning can even be beneficial in some instances, such as:
- Opening up views when trees have fully leafed out so you can see what the final outcome is
- Controlling summer growth
- Opening up tree crowns for sunlight and air circulation
- Identifying dead or diseased areas among healthy foliage (arborists are good at spotting deadwood during the winter, but it’s more difficult on some trees)
REMEMBER: One of the downsides to pruning during the growing season is the risk of pathogens or pests entering through open pruning wounds. If your trees are actively infested with insects or an easily-spread disease is present, talk to a tree care professional before doing any pruning.
What about pruning in the fall?
Fall is the only season when pruning is not suggested, except for dead, damaged or diseased branches. Fall pruning, like all pruning, stimulates growth, but new fall growth will shortly be killed by the dropping temperatures that signal winter. With winter approaching, this short-lived fall growth will end up being useless to a tree, and stimulating that growth requires using a tree’s stored energy reserves that would be better used to help it through our tough Connecticut winters.
Bottom line – when should I prune my trees??
When a tree should be pruned depends on many factors, including the tree species, its health, and your desired outcomes. However, winter will be a good time for most trees so it’s generally safe to plan on pruning during this timeframe.
If you feel overwhelmed by all this, or want to correct the pruning mistakes that, um, somebody might have made, call the arborists at Rayzor’s Edge Tree Service. We’ll be able to identify your trees, determine what kind of pruning they need, and recommend the best time to do the work.
We love trees and we’re here to help you love them too, even if that means braving the cold Connecticut winter weather to prune your trees!
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