Dormancy Signals Pruning Time

With their bright hues, tree leaves let us know that they will soon go dormant for the winter. That also tells us it’s a good time to have your deciduous trees and shrubs pruned.

The plants have stored all the food they’ll need to sustain them trough the winter. The chlorophyll has disappeared from the leaves so that they show their true colors. Nature is now blocking the flow of nutrients and water into the leaves, causing them to fall to the ground. This lightens the weight of the branches to better protect against ice, snow and winter wind damage.

Pruning can further lighten the weight on limbs and open up the tree canopies so that the wind resistance is less. But don’t prune just because the leaves dropped. Prune with a purpose – an objective. That objective may be to…

• Remove dead, dying, crossing or rubbing branches and thin out the crown.
• Raise the crown by removing the lower limbs to open a view or for aesthetic or safety reasons.
• Repair or rehabilitate a tree that has been compromised by topping or other bad practices.
• Reduce the size of the tree using industry acceptable practices.
• Reduce limb weight to reduce hazards from winter winds.

Shrubs need pruning most often to remove dead or dying branches or to reduce their height, spread or both. Evergreens should not be pruned in fall, except in emergency situations. They are best pruned in June, after they’ve set new growth.

The most important pruning advice I can give is to keep your feet on the ground. If you can prune from the ground, go for it if you want. But don’t leave the ground, even on a ladder. It’s unsafe. Leave the job to our arborists. They know woody plant biology and are trained to climb and use sharp equipment safely. Even so, their work is still dangerous. So, leave the high spots to the pros.

2 comments on “Dormancy Signals Pruning Time

  1. Again, thank you for saying so. You would think that this would be obvious, but many of us do not think like the plants that we work with. I cringe when one of my colleagues asks me about pruning camellias, because pruning them while they are active just seems wrong. (I do not always do it that way.) It also bothers me to tell people that it is okay to prune forsythia while it is blooming in spring if one wants to take the blooming canes inside. I actually prune my fruit trees while dormant in spring, but also leave a few of the lower stems for cutting while they are blooming. Yes, I feel guilty about that too.

  2. Great read and good safety tips. USA Today announced that logging/forestry work has the highest fatality rate of any job in the country AND these are trained professionals that have been doing the work for years. Thank you for highlighting that not all trees are pruned in the winter, some trees (i.e. the evergreen tree) are best pruned in the summer.

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