Stihl and garden expert P. Allen Smith bring you the best tips and tricks for pruning in the winter to enjoy a garden that blooms beautifully in spring and summer. Winter is a great time to prune and trim plants while they are dormant. It’s easier deciding what branches need to go with the leaves out of the way. It’s also good for the plants, because when they emerge in spring, they have extra root and energy reserves to support the new growth on the remaining branches.
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In general, professional arborists should always be called in to handle big tree jobs and any aboveground work. For branches that you can safely remove yourself, ensure you use the right tool for the job. The following guidelines can help you in your pruning jobs:
Pruning should be limited to removal of no more than a third of the total bud and leaf-bud-bearing branches.
Cut to the tree’s natural shape and let it grow up. Avoid “scalping” the tree so its winter form looks unnatural.
Remove dead branches, but don’t confuse dead with dormant. If the branch was leafless in summer, it’s time to remove it.
Prune out diseased limbs, cutting well below the diseased areas. Avoid pruning diseased limbs when the plants are wet as water can spread the disease. Before cutting another plant, rinse your tools with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water.
Trim back overhead branches that are in your way where you walk or mow.
Prune out crossing, inward growing, parallel, and competing branches. Where you see two branches crossing, prune back the smaller one.
Cut the branch next to the branch collar–that’s the area of bark where branch and trunk meet. Cutting just above this area rather than a flush cut, flat against the tree will ensure quicker healing. This area of the tree contains special anti-microbial chemicals and phenols, which help inhibit decay. If the cut is made here it’s not necessary to use pruning paint, nature will take care of it.
Avoid leaving stubs as you prune a tree, as they invite insects and disease to move in and attack healthy tissue.
Some trees, such as maples, birches, dogwoods, and walnuts “bleed” or ooze sap when pruned in late winter or early spring. Prune these trees in summer or fall.
Caution should be used when pruning needle type evergreens such as pine or spruce because they don’t bounce back from a bad haircut. These types of evergreens should only be pruned to remove diseased/damaged wood. This can be done any time of the year except when temperatures are below zero.
Roses especially can benefit from fall and winter pruning. Ensure your tools are clean and sharp. Lopping shears and hand pruners come in a variety of sizes and styles. When you are not able to make the cuts you need to make with lopping shears or hand pruners, a pruning saw may be just what you need. These saws allow you to quickly and easily cut smaller branches and limbs. Pruning saws come in fixed and folding blade designs, and some have belt scabbards, so they are always handy.
Hybrid tea, old-fashioned and climbing roses should be pruned right before the leaf buds break. If you live in a cold climate, pruning should be done in late winter or early spring when you remove winter protection and the danger of frost has passed. An exception to this time frame is the old-fashioned roses that flower once each growing season, such as Damasks and Mosses. These varieties bloom on old wood and should be pruned in the summer after they have flowered.
Shrubs can be decorative or practical, but when it comes to their appearance you want the best looking hedges and trees possible. If you want shrubs that are trimmed precisely, with smooth, clean lines, hedge trimmers deliver power with a variety of blade degrees to get the job done fast and are available in electric or gasoline-powered models.
The rule of thumb for pruning flowering shrubs is if it flowers after May 15, prune it in late winter or early spring for lots of bloom in summer. Prune shrubs like forsythia, quince and azaleas that flower before May 15 as soon as the plant finishes flowering. This is because summer bloomers flower on new wood while spring flowering shrubs produce flower buds the previous growing season.
Flowering trees follow the same rule as flowering shrubs. Summer bloomers like crape myrtles should be cut back in late winter, but spring flowering crabapples, redbuds and dogwoods should be pruned immediately after they bloom.