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Yes, it’s cold and snowy outside, but it’s time to bundle up and spend some quality timeScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.52.20 PM with your deciduous trees and shrubs. Winter is actually the best time of year to prune deciduous plants. Your reward for braving the cold? Your bare-branched beauties will burst out with vigorous new growth in the spring.

Pruning can be tricky, and clients often ask the experts at Neave Landscaping for tips. Here’s one to get started: wait for a mild day, preferably with a peek at the sun.

First, Why Prune?

Pruning is important for lots of reasons. Pruning can help control the size of a tree, direct growth, encourage flowering or fruiting. It keeps your trees and shrubs happy and healthy. And pruning out broken, diseased and dead branches now will keep them from dangerously falling off later.

Why Prune In Winter?

Without all the leaves in the way, you can see what you’re doing. The structure of your tree or shrub’s branches is obvious, and easy to follow as you cut. There’s also less chance in winter of transmitting diseases from one plant to another.

Most deciduous trees and shrubs can be pruned in winter, as soon as they go dormant. It’s a great time to shape and thin your deciduous plants in preparation for the spring season ahead. As you get closer to the end of winter and the very beginning of spring, rejuvenation pruning is something you’ll also want to consider.

But don’t touch those evergreens: For the most part, they should be pruned during the growing season, since they never become fully dormant. Now, for some winter pruning tips for trees and shrubs:

Tip #1  Safety First

You’ll be close to lots of poking branches, so wear eye protection. And if you need to prune large trees with heavy limbs or if the tree is near power lines, consider hiring a professional.

Tip #2  Check Your Plant’s Bloom Time

While most deciduous trees and shrubs love a good winter pruning, some are already covered with tight little flower buds for spring. Lop them off, and you’ll be sorry — they won’t bloom for another year. A few on this list include witch hazel, forsythia, azaleas, lilacs, and viburnum. Skip them for now and prune them right after they bloom in spring.

Tip #3  Keep It Natural

Follow the natural lines of your tree or shrub as you prune. Don’t just shear the top off a shrub. This is called “topping,” and will just make the plant send out a crazy configuration of new shoots that will make it even more unmanageable.

Tip #4  Remove The Yucky Stuff First

Tackle anything that shouldn’t be there, which includes all dead or diseased wood, suckers or water sprouts. Suckers are straight, unbranched stems that sprout from the base of a tree. Water sprouts are similar stems but grow at right angles to the branches. Neither of these will grow into natural-looking limbs.

Tip #5  No Crossing Or Rubbing Allowed

Next, remove any branches that cross or rub other branches. Start with the largest branches and move to the smallest.

Tip #6  Thin The Canopy

Good air circulation helps keeps diseases from setting in. Starting at the center and moving to the exterior, thin the branches that make up the dense mass of your tree or shrub.

Tip #7  Easy Does ItScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.03.39 PM

Never remove more than one-quarter of a plant in a season. Overdoing it will encourage sucker growth.

Take lots of breaks to step back and look at what you’ve done. By pruning too much, you can hollow out the center.

Tip #8  Always Prune Back To A Bud Or Branch

Never leave a stub. Open ends encourage ugly horizontal sucker-type growth, as well as disease. Prune just above a bud, then a new branch will grow from that bud. If possible, the bud should face outward, so the branch will grow toward the outside of the tree or shrub.

Tip # 9  Bug Off  

Because branches are bare now, you can easily see signs of insect problems. Remove any egg masses so insects don’t infest your plant in the spring.

Tip #10  Disinfect Your Tools

Mix up some rubbing alcohol and water — about 2 tablespoons of alcohol to 1 cup of water — and wipe off your tools. This helps prevent the spread of disease from cut to cut as you prune. You can also use common household disinfectants.

Let Neave Handle The Shears

Still a bit perplexed by pruning? The experts at Neave Group Landscape Management offer winter pruning and years of skilled experience. They know what to prune when and have the skills and tools for the job.

If you’re in the Hudson Valley, call us at (845) 463-0592. If you’re in Westchester County, call (914) 271-7996; from Connecticut, dial (203) 212-4800. Or, fill out our simple web form, and we’ll contact you about setting up your free consultation.

Images: Gloves and pruners, Pruned branches

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