Winter pruning guide

Winter can look pretty different depending on where you’re located but chances are you will spot a tree or shrub in need of some trimming.

In comes winter pruning!

Pruning your deciduous trees and shrubs should be a part of routine maintenance.  Doing this essential task in the winter ensures the plant is dormant and will continue to “rest” until temperatures rise, saving its energy for a surge of growth in spring.  You can prune to maintain a certain shape or size, remove dead, damaged and diseased branches or to encourage growth once spring begins!  Winter pruning also gives you the advantage of seeing the form of the plant without leaves on the branches. Look for pesky suckers, unruly crisscrossing stems or crowded spaces that need to be opened up to allow for more light or air circulation.

Here are a few things to consider before you start chopping away:

Know what you’re pruning

Do some research on your plant material. If it is a flowering tree or shrub, you’ll need to know if it flowers on new or old growth. This distinction will determine when the optimal time is to cut back branches. If you’re unsure, dig deeper with the help of a local extension office, library or your favorite nursery.

Have the right equipment

Use proper tools that are suited for cutting branches of varying circumference. Suggestions include pruners, loppers, and a hand saw. Disinfect blades between plants to prevent the spread of disease.

Take your time

No need to rush in there like Edward Scissorhands. Aim for a natural look. Cut back to the first node or the next set of buds. A lone branch will not sprout new growth and end up looking really awkward. It is easy to get carried away so take a step back to assess the situation. Remember, you can always take more off, but you can’t put it back on once you’ve made the cut.

Below are some suggestions of plants that may be ready for a little trimming where others may prefer to let things ride until Spring and Summer are in full swing.


(New wood flowering)

Crape Myrtle, Maple, Oak, Elm, Crabapple, Mountain Ash, As, Birch, Beech Linden, Burning Bush, some Hydrangeas (H. paniculata and H. arborescens), Butterfly Bush, Smokebush, Barberry, Honeysuckle, Dogwood Beautyberry, Clethra


(Old wood or spring flowering)

Azalea, Beautybush, Spirea, some Clematis, Cotoneaster, Deutzia, Flowering Almond, Forsythia, Mophead Hydrangea, Lilac, Magnolia, Mock Orange, Mountain Laurel, Pieris, Rhododendron, Viburnum, Weigela, Witch Hazel.

Enjoy pruning this winter and with any luck, Spring will be just around the corner!

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