It's no secret that trimming and pruning trees is vital to both the health of the tree and to keeping them looking their best. The confusing part can be knowing when to prune your trees. The following guide can help you ensure that your timing is correct so that pruning doesn't compromise the health of your trees.
Most major pruning should occur in the dormant season from mid- to late-winter. Wait until after the coldest part of the season has passed, and then go ahead and trim back the tree. This is the time to remove dense interior branches, those that are showing signs of damage, or those that are weakening the overall structure of the canopy. If you prune close to spring, some sap flow may occur during pruning but it won't damage the tree. Just make sure you finish this pruning before the buds begin to break.
Mid- to late-summer is another suitable time to trim, but only for light pruning. This is the time to gently shape evergreen trees and other hedge-forming trees. It is also a good time to spot weak branches and trim them out, such as those that droop drastically underneath the weight of their leaves. Remove any suckers – that shrubby growth around the base of the tree—as well. You don't usually want to trim excessively, but minor shaping and corrections can be done successfully in summer after the spring flush of growth is complete.
Flowering Tree Cautions
If you have certain trees that you prize because of their flowers, such as ornamental plums or dogwoods, there are a few pruning cautions to keep in mind. Spring-flowering trees shouldn't be trimmed in late winter except to remove dead or damaged branches. This is because you will remove the flower buds if you trim at this time. Instead, wait until after the flowering has completed in late spring before you take the trimmers to the tree. Summer-flowering trees don't require this caution—you can still prune these in late winter. Just wait until after flowering for any late summer corrective trims.
When to put down the trimmers
You may sometimes see people out in fall or early winter trimming back evergreens or hedges. While this is common practice, it isn't necessarily a good idea. This is because fungal and disease pathogens, along with insect pests, are looking for places to bed down for winter. New wounds on your trees could provide the perfect over-wintering spot for these pests. Put down the trimmers, except for the removal of a majorly damaged branch, from late summer until mid-winter if you want to keep your trees healthy.
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