Winter Dormant Pruning


Correct pruning is a landscape practice that can enhance the health, vigor and aesthetics of your trees and shrubs. Below are Five advantages to pruning in the winter:

1. During the winter, most woody plants are dormant and so are the many diseases and insects that can potentially invade pruning cuts.

2. After leaves have fallen, it is much easier to see the plants overall form and structure. Damaged and diseased branches are more readily apparent when not obscured by foliage.

3. Pruning in the late summer or early fall can stimulate new growth that may not harden off before the cold weather. This is not a concern during the winter.

4. Winter pruning is good for your plants, leaving them with extra root and energy reserves to quickly heal wounds and support vigorous spring growth that will obscure the pruning cuts.

5. Winter pruning is also good for you, giving you a reason to go outside on a mild winter day to enjoy your landscape.

Although winter and early spring is a great time to prune, if the tree or shrub is a spring flowering plant and the blooms are important to you, it may be best to wait and prune that plant shortly after it is done blooming. Even though pruning spring blooming plants in the winter will never adversely affect the plant;s health, it can reduce those blooms.

There are many reasons to prune woody plants and its a good idea to understand why you are pruning before you start. Before making the first cut, ask yourself, Why am I removing this branch? Have a goal in mind and a vision for how you want the shrub or tree to look when you are done.

The most common reason that homeowners prune their plants is to reduce or maintain a plants size. Other reasons to prune include removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches; increasing flowers or fruits; stimulating growth; and removing branches that may be interfering with or obstructing pedestrians, traffic, and buildings.

There are two basic techniques that are used when pruning most woody plants: thinning and heading back. Both of these techniques should be practiced together when the objective is to reduce or maintain the size of the plant. With both of these techniques, using sharp, high-quality, and well-maintained pruning equipment will make the job easier and less likely to cause damage to your plants

Thinning is the removal of an entire branch back to the next branch or the main trunk. This technique promotes better health and form by removing weak and diseased branches and increasing light penetration and air movement. When making a thinning cut, do not cut so near the trunk or next branch that you cut into the area at the base of the branch that you are removing. This area is called the branch collar. By cutting into or removing the branch collar, you will slow down the healing process and possibly increase the risk of infection. If you did it properly, you will see a circle of healthy callus material swell around the cut in the spring.


Heading back is simply shortening the length of the branch back to a bud or the next side branch. A proper heading back cut should never leave a stub. Stubs that are left from pruning usual rot and later invite insects and disease to move in and attack healthy material. Make your pruning cut at a slight angle about a above the bud or side branch.

Thoughtful pruning of your trees and shrubs during the dormant winter season will allow you more time to enjoy the fruits and blooms of your labors during the pleasant weather of spring!

-Kirsten Johnson, Author, Why Good Nature