News and Blog Articles
News and Blog Articles
You’ve probably heard that you should prune your trees in the fall, before the first freeze. In fact, one of the most common myths of pruning is that all trees should be pruned just before winter. But the truth is, fall may actually be the worst time of year to prune!
So what is the best time to prune? That depends on what kind of pruning you want to do. Sometimes, the best time to prune a tree is in the dead of winter, or in the middle of summer, or even early spring, like it is now.
What is Pruning?
Pruning is an important part of maintaining a tree's integrity and health. There are a couple different types of pruning, but the most common are crown cleaning and crown thinning. Crown cleaning is a pruning technique that removes dead, dying, or diseased branches so they don't harm or hinder healthy ones. This is the type of pruning that can be done year-round, and is safe to do in the fall.
Crown thinning, on the other hand, is used to create more space between branches. This gives them more room to grow, reduces the risk of any branch getting crowded out of sunlight, and also prevents branches from damaging each other from repeated contact and friction.
Why is Fall Pruning Bad?
The myth that the best time to prune is in the fall comes from the idea that you should prune a tree while it’s dormant. That line of thinking is actually correct – pruning a tree while it’s “asleep” for the winter encourages new growth come springtime. The important distinction here is that you want to prune only after a tree has gone dormant for the winter, never before.
Pruning live growth (which just means pruning away branches that are still alive and healthy), while good for the tree in the long run, does create “wounds” where you cut away branches or parts of branches. In the fall, your tree is winding down in preparation for winter. During this time, it won’t have the energy to seal those wounds.
In the cold, winter months, this isn’t a problem, because the low temperatures discourage rot and decay. Most pests and fungi are also dormant for the winter, so they aren’t likely to infect a tree through an open wound.
But in the fall, the weather is just cool, and generally damp. It’s the happiest time of year for a variety of nasty pests and fungi, and is also a great environment for rot and decay. Oak trees are especially vulnerable from April until July to oak wilt, one of the deadliest tree diseases.
Basically, pruning in the fall is leaving your wounded tree vulnerable to infections and infestations that may actually kill it.
With the protective barrier of cold temperatures and dormant pests, winter is usually the “best time to prune.” If you’re looking to thin out your branches, trim back wayward limbs, or just improve the overall health of your tree, then waiting until the dormant months is probably your best bet.
The rule of thumb when it comes to pruning in winter is to wait until after the coldest days have passed. For the Athens area, the coldest part of winter is in January and early February, which makes the best time to prune in winter late February and early March.
Winter isn’t the only time you can prune live growth, though. If you’re looking to redirect some growth, then late spring or early summer is the best time to do it. Redirecting growth basically just means if you want to encourage your tree to grow in a different direction – like say, away from the powerlines or your roof. Redirecting can also refer to if you want to encourage a specific leader to become dominant on a tree with more than one trunk.
So, for example, crepe myrtles have multiple leaders (trunks) that grow from the base and out into a shrub-like shape. If you want to encourage the tree to grow taller rather than wider, you can trim back some of the leaders so one becomes stronger. This will encourage the tree to grow into a more stereotypical “tree” shape.
Summer is also a good time to remove defective limbs or branches that have grown too heavy to support themselves any longer. Any wounds created by removing limbs will be easily taken care, as the tree will have plenty of energy to spare in its most active period.
Flowering Tree Pruning
When it comes to trees that flower (like Bradford pears and crepe myrtles), the best time to prune actually depends on the blooms. If your tree blooms in the spring, then pruning should be done after all the flowers have fallen. If your tree blooms in late summer, then pruning should be done in winter, or early spring at the latest.
If you have a tree that you want to prune, or a tree you think needs pruning, but you aren’t sure where to start, when to start, or what to do, feel free to give Classic City Arborists a call! We offer free estimates, and will send our certified arborist to look at your tree and give his professional recommendation, as well as get you a quote for how much it would cost for us to do the work for you.
Emily Casuccio is sister and sister-in-law to Rebekah and Scott Rushing, and has over half a decade of experience in copywriting, copyediting, proofreading, and developmental storyboarding. She's worked with both published and undiscovered authors on both fiction and nonfiction, and takes pride in supporting local businesses. Her passion lies in the written word and helping authors of all capacities realize their dreams and achieve their fullest potential. To learn more about her, read samples of her work, or contact her, visit her online portfolio.