Fall 2015 - Dormant Season Pruning

By: Jake KubisiakCertified Arborist

Wisconsin late fall and winter season – Packer wins are piling up, hunters head out for deer season, and the Wachtel crew is scheduled to prune your trees.  Wait a minute how can they work in the cold?  How do they know what is live or dead with no leaves?  Is this the best time to prune our trees?

Pruning of trees is one of the most commonly requested maintenance practices completed by our arborists at Wachtel Tree Science.  Reasons to have your trees professionally pruned are many:

  • Canopy or limbs are encroaching structures or are just too low.
  • The canopy is thick and crowded and with limbs competing for limited space and light.
  • Limbs may have weak attachments or are cracked from storms.
  • Dead or weakened limbs are of less benefit to tree’s health.
  • Young trees greatly benefit from proper pruning to develop good branch spacing and structure.

One of the best times to prune any woody plant is the dormant season.  A primary reason for this is that certain species (mainly oaks and elms) are susceptible to lethal and some damaging diseases and insects that are inactive through the dormant season.  Generally October 1st to April 1st is our ‘window’ for this dormant pruning work.  Dutch Elm Disease, Oak Wilt and Fire Blight are good examples of these diseases that can spread with improper timing of pruning leading to death or dieback.

Another reason to consider the dormant season is that pruning trees often creates heavy debris that may cause damage to perennials and other less sturdy landscape. Even your lawn, not under the tree, but along the path from the tree to the street is repeatedly walked on and possibly compacted by the removal of limbs and debris. Dormant season allows us to avoid the unnecessary damage.

Another factor to consider is the lack of leaves allows a knowledgeable and experienced Arborist a better view of branch structure.  A major factor in reducing future storm breakage and long term viability of a tree is the structural habit of the tree.  Pruning trees to ‘train’ or improve this structure requires knowledge of the species, an ability to identify good branch attachment, and proper branch spacing.  A GREAT benefit to all of our client’s trees is that Wachtel Arborists have a great deal of knowledge to draw upon when deciding which limb to prune or leave behind.  

A final question typically asked; How do you know what is live or dead in the winter months?  The answer is pretty simple.  We do not usually remain on the ground when pruning trees.  We get up close and personal with the limbs and branches being pruned.  Branches provide clear signs as to what is going on internally.  Live twigs shine in sunlight and are flexible.  Dead twigs are brittle and discolored or may have bark flaking off indicating which branch to remove.  

Contact your Wachtel Tree Science Certified Arborist today to schedule a review of your trees for dormant season pruning, and we can provide a recommendation and estimate to provide this service.

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