Cutting to the chase: Prune trees in winter months

by | Feb 10, 2016


When it’s cold outside, it’s completely expected to want to stay indoors, sipping hot cocoa, where you can still feel your fingers and toes. Being outside is typically reserved for those hurried steps to your car or those moments when you know your kids need adult accompaniment to sled. Few expect to do yardwork now. Yardwork is something many people associate with warming temperatures and chirping birds. Yet, if you have trees in your landscape that need to be pruned, now is the time to do it!

A few weeks ago, ice coated areas of North Carolina and caused trees to double over, sag under the weight, or break in the worst of cases. Much of the ice damage could have been solved with the simple task of pruning.

Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring, before trees begin to bud. If cuts are made before an ice event, then there is a reduced chance of ice damage. Pruning when trees are dormant has several other advantages as well. There is better visibility into the crown, facilitating more precise pruning with a view of the tree without the added weight or coverage of foliage. Trees also respond to wounding through a healing process, one which is best accomplished in early spring. Also, there is reduced risk of introducing disease to a tree through fresh wounds, and in general, pruning leads to improved air circulation that can reduce disease incidence year-round.

When pruning trees, it’s important to target the three Ds: diseased, damaged and dead branches. Others may choose to prune a tree to reduce size, control the shape, or promote flowering. For the best protection from winter storm damage, it is important to remove weak, narrow-angled, v-shaped crotches.

To prune your trees, contact a local arborist or reference N.C. State Extension for guidance on self-pruning. Your trees will thank you!