Winter is a great time to prune deciduous trees. You can see the structure easily as you look for crossing branches and dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Clean cuts made by rabbits and jagged edges made by deer foraging for food during winter may also be found. On days when temps are above freezing, put on heavy-duty gloves, sharpen and clean the pruners, and trim for healthy growth.

Quick Tip #1

Clean pruners with alcohol between trimming different plants to limit the spread of disease.

Quick Tip #2

Branches that grow inward and rub on one another need to be pruned out to keep growth away from the plant center.

Quick Tip #3

Cut unwanted branches at an angle on the branch intersection without leaving a stub. Shape and thin your deciduous plants following their natural features.

Quick Tip #4

Opening up the canopy of a tree or the structure of shrubs will allow greater air circulation and reduce fungal disease.

Quick Tip #5

Before the end of March, prune woody plants that bloom in summer, like hydrangeas, clethra, St. John’s wort, and weigela.

Quick Tip #6

If you like the size and shape of your hydrangea as it is right now, let it be. For Arborescens and Panicle Hydrangeas, we recommend lightly deadheading the dried flowers. To maintain a shorter shrub, the canes of Arborescens can be cut back to 6″-12″. Panicles can be lightly pruned, but not cut back to the ground. Oakleaf Hydrangea may occasionally need older, thicker stems removed in spring after new growth starts showing. The first set of flowers comes from older stems on the Endless Summer or Big Leaf Hydrangeas, so wait until the leaf buds open before only pruning out the dead portions of stems. Mountain Hydrangeas also bloom on new and old wood and pruning is typically not needed, but can be pruned to shape immediately after the spring bloom.

Quick Tip #7

Prune oaks and elms in winter while insects are still dormant to prevent the spread of Dutch Elm Disease and oak wilt. Trees pruned in late winter while still dormant develop a callous around the cut much more rapidly than those pruned at other times.

Quick Tip #8

Prune birch and maple early too, as pruning cuts may weep excessively once sap begins to flow when the temperature warms up. Eric Gundersen, our Tree & Shrub Manager, shows how to prune larger branches.

Quick Tip #9

Wait to prune plants with flower buds, such as fragrant viburnums, lilacs, and anything that blooms before Memorial Day, until just after they flower.

Quick Tip #10

Forsythia, Quince, Cherry, Magnolia, Redbud, Pear, Crabapple, Pussywillow and even some Maple trees with branches less than ½” in diameter can produce buds indoors when forced. Cut branches will come out of dormancy in a few weeks in a vase of warm water.

“Animal damage can take back a year’s growth in a few minutes”, says Eric. “To prevent deer and rabbits from nibbling on your landscape, use a tree wrap on younger tree trunks and fencing around shrubs.” Pruning before the buds plump up and protecting against animal damage will encourage good spring growth.

Rabbit damage on a shrub.

Chicken wire can be used as fencing.

Tree trunk wrap

Tree wrap to protect young trees.