It May Be Cold Outside, But Winter is the Best Time For Pruning

It’s winter and that means it’s time to prune. Pruning is one of the best things you can do for your shrubs and trees as it not only helps control the size of a plant, direct growth and influence flowering or fruiting, but it can also rejuvenate old, overgrown plants and maintain plant health and appearance.

Why prune in the winter? Pruning this time of the year can promote fast regrowth in the spring, as most plants are dormant during the winter. This is important because pruning is best done before buds begin to swell and open. Also, winter is a good time to prune most deciduous trees because you can see the overall branch structure easily, and insects and disease-causing organisms are not active. Because they produce flowers on new growth or current season wood, the optimal time to prune summer-flowering trees and shrubs is late winter or early spring before new growth starts. This is advantageous because it means the wound will be open for a shorter period of time, which can reduce the risk of infection.

When pruning a tree or shrub for the first time, there are several steps which should be followed. First, make sure to remove all broken, dead and diseased limbs. Next, make your trained cuts. By cutting back lateral branches, the tree or shrub can be trained to develop a desired shape, to fill in an unsightly open area or to keep it in bounds to fit a given area.

When cutting back to an intersecting branch, choose one that forms an angle of no more than 45 degrees with the branch to be removed. Additionally, the branch that you cut back to should have a diameter of at least half that of the branch which you are going to be removing. Make slanting cuts when removing limbs that grow upward; this prevents water from collecting in the cut and expedites healing.

Make your cuts just outside the swollen branch collar, which is where the plant begins to heal its wounds. When you prune, also take care not to damage the bark around the pruning cut. To shorten a branch, cut it back to a side branch or make the cut about a 1/4 inch above the bud and always prune above a bud facing the outside of a plant which will force the new branch to grow in that direction.

Importantly, make sure to use the correct-sized tools for the job. The wrong tools will either leave jagged cuts or ruin your pruning tools. Well-maintained tools also make the cuts clean and smooth, which is important for a good job. And never leave a stub as they can produce weak stem suckers and will provide a place for pests and diseases to attack. When pruning, keep in mind that even proper work will leave physical wounds on plants and can have several important plant health outcomes.

So get out there and start pruning. It’s a great way to have your trees and shrubs looking good come spring and summer.

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