Winter Pruning Techniques

Cold weather is upon us. The days are shorter, the heat has been turned on, and we’ve all thrown an extra blanket or two on our beds. A lot of us will stay inside until we absolutely have to go out for something. We think longingly of the spring and summer days spent planting, mowing, or just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful, fresh, colorful landscape we’ve created (or had created) for ourselves. We think to ourselves, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until spring to start working on making my yard beautiful again.” But wait! There IS something we can do during the cold months to help our yard flourish in the spring and summer! What is this activity that can help us create some excitement, give us a reason for going outside, and make us feel like we’re doing something positive for our landscape? The answer is simple: winter pruning.

Late winter is generally the best time to prune, specifically late February and early March in New England. There are some exceptions to this, but pruning during the winter months will usually lead to a burst of new growth in the spring and if that is the effect you’re looking for, you should absolutely go for it. Most plants remain dormant during the winter months, so when they “wake up” in the springtime, they’ll grow a lot faster when pruned properly during dormancy. Pruning deciduous plants in the winter also makes it a lot easier to see their shape since their foliage is gone. You may notice that some trees, such as maple, walnut, and birches, may begin to “bleed” during pruning. This is just the sap flowing out of the tree and is not harmful. The trees should stop “bleeding” when it begins to leaf out in the spring.

So what are some actual techniques to employ while pruning? First, you’re going to want to prune on a more mild, dry day. Then make sure you first go after any dead and/or diseased branches on the plant you are pruning. When dealing with diseased branches, remember to disinfect any shears or saw blades between each cut as to avoid spreading the disease to other, otherwise healthy plants. Next, remove any overgrown branches and twigs that may be limiting any light or air at the crown (branches, leaves, and any reproductive structures that extend from the trunk of main stems) of the tree. Cut the branches at their nodes, the points at which one branch or twig attaches to another. Keep in mind that the overall goal is to keep branches that will develop and maintain the structure of the tree. It is also important to make sure you’re using the correct tools while pruning. Select tools that will keep a nice, sharp edge, and are relatively easily sharpened. Make sure to properly care for your equipment so that it lasts longer and helps to keep your plants healthy.

While pruning can be done at almost any time of the year, it is always important to prune when it will cause the least amount of damage to the plant. Pruning at the wrong time of the year won’t necessarily kill plants, but continued improper pruning can definitely result in damaged or weakened plants.


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