Pruning is an interesting garden chore—some of us love it, some of us do not look forward to it at all, and there’s considerable debate about when and how to best prune. It is true that there’s a lot to learn about pruning; it’s a highly detailed skill that some professional gardeners specialize in. However, the basics of pruning are something that we can all learn, and correct pruning techniques will keep our plants healthy and ensure that they thrive when spring returns. So let’s dig into the basics of pruning bushes, trees, and shrubs for winter.
Pruning in Winter
In all gardening tasks, it helps to know why we’re doing what we’re doing—so why prune in winter? Pruning in the colder months does a lot to help plants grow more rapidly and healthily in spring. By removing old grown, we allow the plant to put out new growth which is more vibrant, vital, and likely to have more flowers or fruit on it. By pruning before any new growth starts naturally—when the plant is dormant—we reduce stress and damage to the plant and let it put its energy towards healthy growth in spring. Finally, by pruning in winter when the foliage is gone, we make it easier on ourselves; bare plants are easier to examen and prune than a plant covered in leaves.
When Should I Prune My Plants?
When to prune your plants in fall and winter depends on the plant, but there are a few basic guidelines to pruning that should help you make the correct decisions. Fruiting plants, be they trees or bushes/shrubs, should generally be pruned after they’ve gone dormant in the winter—so once the leaves are off, in other words. Flowering trees, shrubs, vines, and perennials should be pruned in late winter, to ensure maximum blooms in the spring. Evergreens are an interesting case; they should be pruned in very early spring before the new growth starts to show. This ensures that they keep the appropriate shape throughout the growing season.
There are exceptions to these rules—peach trees, for instance, should not be pruned while dormant as this can lead to long-term damage. Getting in touch with your local agricultural extension office or garden club for information about your specific plants is a good idea before getting started with pruning.
How to Prune Plants for Winter
How best to prune depends on the plant, but here are some basic guidelines for pruning that should help guide you through most situations:
- Safety first!Please take appropriate safety precautions while pruning. Ensure that your work area is as clear of debris as possible, that your tools are well maintained and working properly, and that your ladder is stable if you’re using one. Gardening is a joyful hobby, but it does have some risk and we want you to be safe and healthy. Eye and ear protection is a good idea as well, as are gloves and safety helmets if pruning larger limbs.
- Start by removing unwanted growth—for some plants, this will mean removing dead stems, canes, or brambles. For trees and bushes, this will mean removing dead limbs or branches or clearing away any “problem” areas—a limb that’s grown onto a walkway or over a roof, for instance. For perennials, clearing away dead growth above the surface is a must, but be careful not to damage or disturb the roots.
- For shrubs and bushes, follow the 1/3 rule. This means that while pruning, remove no more than 1/3 of the “good” wood—live growth, not dead parts of the plant—in any pruning session. This avoids overstressing the plant and promotes copious and healthy new growth in spring.
- Crossing branches—branches that overlap and rub against each other—should be removed. The rubbing leads to damage and that damage can turn into an open wound that lets disease, infection, and pests in, creating long-term problems for the plant in question.
- Cut close to the main stem or trunk, but not into it. Cutting away too much makes the cut difficult to heal, which may cause health problems for the tree or shrub down the road.
- Use the right tools. Sharp pruners and clippersare a must for both a successful pruning and your own safety. Ensure that you’ve got the right equipment for the job and that you’re using it safely and correctly.
- Speaking of safety: when it comes to cutting away large tree limbs, consider leaving that job for the professionals. A tree service has the equipment and expertise to ensure that the job is done right with no damage to people or property. We’re all about a DIY approach in most things, but err to the side of caution for large trees and large limbs.
Pruning in winter is a great way to both support the health of your plants and to stay engaged with your garden in the colder months. If you have questions or advice about pruning, let us know! Gardzen is all about community, and we love to hear from you!