Although summer or fall might seem like the ideal time to prune your plants— when they’re growing like crazy— it can actually cause unnecessary stress and hinder their regrowth come spring.
Before you pull out your shears and start chopping, make sure your trees and bushes are ready for a trim. Here are five pruning tips to read before trimming your plant life.
1. Winter is the Best Time to Trim Trees/Bushes— But There are Exceptions
The last thing you want to do is trim your trees or bushes mid-fall. When you prune a branch, your plant immediately receives a signal that there was an injury— and redirects its energy to help itself regrow. It’s a natural survival response.
The problem is, your plants need that stored energy to survive the cold winter months! If your tree or shrub pushes these nutrients and taps into its water storage to heal, it could cause stress on the plant and deplete it of its winter reserves, leaving it susceptible to damage throughout the harsh winter season.
Generally speaking, most plants would benefit from a winter pruning, however, there are a few exceptions. Needle-leaf evergreens, for example, don’t take well to any kind of trimming. Or, by trimming certain flowering shrubs that flower early in the spring— like rhododendron bushes or lilac shrubs— you could be pruning off a lot of next year’s blooms. For questions about what and what not to prune this winter, ask someone on our team!
2. Dormant Season Pruning Usually Helps to Promise a Better Spring Bloom
Again, fall is generally the time of the year where your trees and shrubs are preparing for the cold months ahead. Just like a squirrel finds and buries nuts to ensure it can eat during the winter, your plants too will be stockpiling nutrients and water to survive the ice and dropping temperatures.
Once winter hits, your plants will be in a dormant state, free of the stress of storage prep. In this relaxed state, your trees and shrubs won’t feel the need to recover from a fresh cut, as they’ve essentially put up a “be back in the spring!” sign and stopped any active growth.
But come warmer weather and mother nature’s gentle prodding, your plants will come out of their dormancy and bloom even stronger, realizing they have an injury after waking and jumpstart healing.
3. Pruning a Tree/Bush During the Winter Protects it from Insects & Disease
When you cut your trees and shrubs, you are exposing the interior of the plant to the outside world. Just like when we get a cut, you clean the wound and bandage it to ward off germs and infections, your plants are susceptible to further threat until they heal.
During the fall, summer and spring, insects are out and about and can invade your weakened plant if you haven’t protected your property with proper insect treatments. Your plants are already under stress this time, preparing their winter reserves, and might not have the resources necessary to heal, fight off invaders or infection and gear up for the long, cold months ahead.
Fortunately, during the colder months of winter, these pests are nowhere to be found— and your trees and shrubs are in a relaxed state. That’s why winter is the best time to prune, when your plants are less likely to have to fend off infection and disease. Be sure to shield them from four-legged pests too, with these four ways to protect your trees and shrubs from deer damage.
4. Dormant Trimming Helps to Reserve Otherwise Wasted Energy your Plants Need to Survive Winter
Damaged branches or plant material can really weigh your plants down. Your trees and bushes are distributing energy towards these problem areas in desperate attempt to recover when they should be focusing their nutrient power on the healthy parts!
By trimming off any dead or hindering branches, you are taking a huge weight off your plants' shoulders, leaving them with extra root and energy reserves to quickly heal wounds and grow back stronger come spring.
During the wintertime, your trees’ leaves will have fallen off, giving you a better view of any damage. Keep an eye out for crossing branches, which may be competing for space or cramping its growth or rubbing together and causing wounds that allow for insect and disease to enter the plant— and trim off the weaker link.
Remember, by pruning at certain positions, you are telling your plants exactly where to grow come spring and shaping its future expansion. Make sure you’re being mindful of where and how you’re cutting.
5. The More Precise Your Trim, the Better the Regrowth
When pruning your trees and shrubs, be cautious of quick or sloppy hack jobs. Never remove more than a quarter of a tree’s crown, don’t cut any branches smaller than a third of the trunks diameter and ensure your pruning shears are sharp for a clean cut. Here are some more tips for properly pruning from the Arbor Day Foundation.
As a general rule, make an initial cut to your branches about four to five inches from the truck. When the branch falls, the weight may tear off more of the remaining stub. This is fine, as you should cut the branch again, closer to the trunk. If you’re trimming a plant with buds, cut about a fourth of an inch about the bud, at an angle in the direction you wish the new growth to follow.
Better Homes & Gardens has a thorough guide explaining where and how to make a proper cut when pruning. Though you could do it yourself, an experienced landscaper will know the best ways to trim your exact plant life.
Promise Your Trees & Shrubs Vibrant Spring Growth
A winter pruning is just what your shrubs and trees need to grow back strong next spring. Here in Massachusetts, we recommend pruning your plants anywhere from December through March, weather depending.
For more landscaping tips, download our 12-Month Home Landscape Calendar. It outlines exactly how to care for your property, with all the tips and tricks you need to keep your lawn smiling every month of the year.
Not sure you want to do this all yourself? Check out our Landscaping Services. We always say, “hire a professional— you’ll be glad you did!”