Trees may be leaf-less, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’re management-free at this time of the year. In fact, for most trees, now is the time to get them into tip-top shape… literally. Shaping, thinning and removing damaged portions from shade trees is best done during these cool winter months before bud break.
But before you don your coat and go searching for your pruning saw, first assess whether you should be pruning at all. From the perspective of the health of your tree, there are a couple of questions to consider.
First, is any part of the tree dead, diseased or damaged? If so, these branches should be removed to improve overall appearance and health of your tree. Doing so will help prevent insect & decay organisms from entering the healthy portions of tree.
Second, is your tree prone to leaf diseases? Thinning the canopy increases air circulation and light penetration. Fungal diseases such as anthracnose affect many different tree species and often fungi thrive in dark, moisture-ridden environments. Reducing this ideal environment reduces their prevalence.
While the immediate weather forecast doesn’t threaten this, pruning trees before the next big ice storm can also reduce potential ice damage coming their way. Often, pruning targets weak wood or over-sized branches which can be damaged from the weight of a thick layer of ice.
If you don’t need to prune your trees, don’t! But act now if your trees are due for some maintenance. To prune your trees, contact a local certified arborist or reference N.C. State Cooperative Extension for guidance on do-it-yourself pruning. The University of Florida’s pruning guidelines are also very informative. Whatever you do, take advantage of warmer-than-usual days whenever you can!