The Best Time to Prune?
Written by: Tony Arnoldi, Board Certified Master Arborist WI-0102B
I am often asked this question in early spring, when the sunshine has returned and animals, birds, and people have rustled from winter hibernation: “When is the best time to prune my trees? My answer is sometimes disappointing: “It is the season that we have just left – the dormant season.” The reason it is disappointing is that they were looking forward to getting some things done and wanted to the right thing by their trees. A great many trees can be pruned at any time of year, and we surely do the greatest volume of pruning work during the growing season. However, it is wise to consider the reasoning behind the dormant recommendation.
- Winter Biology – trees are stressed from pruning cuts less when they are dormant. Dormancy is especially indicated if the pruning needs to be aggressive for any reason (example rejuvenation pruning for shrubs, or other times when large amounts of branch material is needed to be removed to accomplish desired or necessary goals). Insects are also dormant and tree diseases are at their low ebb during the winter. Some key disease issues are effectively avoided with winter pruning. A parallel is often drawn between this and a hospital room – “the patient is asleep and the operation is done in a sterile environment.” With the leaves not there to hide issues in the canopy, a more thorough job can be done during a “Crown Cleaning” pruning specification.
- Landscape Considerations – bucket trucks, spider lifts, mini-loaders, chippers and other equipment impact the landscape less in the winter. During this time the leaves are off of the trees and de-tangling the removed material from the remaining branching is easier, with less damage. Perennials, ground covers, ornamental grasses, prairies and other plants die down and are less vulnerable too. Frozen ground is a real plus for these operations (although frozen ground can be rare or elusive some winters). Activity in the yard is down to nothing in the winter as well, so conflicts with planned get-togethers, parties, weddings or garden showings/walks are almost non-existent (very helpful).
- Budget/Planning Considerations – most landscapes have some trees or shrubs that benefit from or need treatments to mitigate or control insect or disease issues. Other treatments help trees recover from damages to their branches or roots. Still other treatments help greatly in beautifying the landscape (healthy trees look beautiful). All of these services happen during the growing season at one time or another. Having pruning or removal work done at the same time can be harder for the budget. Why not plan this periodic work when it can best be worked in to even out the costs?
- Backlog amount – during the busy growing season our popularity shows – backlogs both to see a property and then to schedule the work can both grow. If a call request is placed in the dormant season, it will reduce the time of both. It will then be easier to have work scheduled for the growing season (most in demand) with this early start.
We would be very happy to evaluate your trees for the work they need to keep them healthy, safe, and beautiful. Please contact your Certified Arborist to help plan the best schedule to accomplish the work you would like done.