Winter is the time for pruning

Published 12:03 pm Thursday, February 8, 2024

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For many trees and shrubs, the ideal pruning time is mid-winter or late winter. Perhaps you’ve already gotten started, but if not, this is your reminder that a winter day when it’s above freezing is the ideal time to prune and trim most deciduous woody plants.

Evergreens can be trimmed, but it is actually better to trim most of them during their active growing times, rather than winter.

You’ll need a pruning saw, some loppers and especially a sharp and clean hand pruning tool. These may be in your tool shed, closet or basement, or your pair may still be at the store! Either way, you’ll need some sharp tools to make smooth cuts on your trees and shrubbery.

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Before you saw or lop a big limb, look for the collar. Collar, you say? This ring of tissue near the trunk should be left, but your cut should be as close to this collar as you can without damaging it. 

For bigger limbs, make one cut several inches or a foot from the tree, then after most of the limb has been separated from the parent plant, you can trim the stub more easily and cleanly up close to the collar. Healing of the cuts is much faster this way. Too often, a stubby piece of limb is left by the inexperienced. Others cut the collar and cause the tree to be slow to heal the wound. 

There should be a reason for removing or shortening a limb on most trees. This applies to many shrubs, except for those you can take hedge shears to. Do you need to shorten limbs so they branch out more? Are you trying to keep the tree smaller? Are some limbs too low-hanging? Does one side have too many limbs?  Broken or damaged limbs can be removed anytime. Major corrective pruning is best done in dormancy for most trees.

Pruning can be compared to raising a child. If you “correct” your trees and shrubs when they are young, they are far less likely to be a big problem later on in their lives. A child who gets no discipline will likely be a long-term headache for both yourself and society. And pruning your young tree or bush into the way you want it to grow up will save you from having to deal with bigger problems down the road.

A warm day, perhaps with the birds chirping as they are at this moment as I write, is a fine day to for dormant pruning. I think I’ll go get my secateurs and do some trimming on my young apple trees right now.


The author is a landscaper. He can be reached via email at