Winter Pruning in Warm Climates

Michael Nolan
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    Image by Dmitrjis Dmitrijevs/Shutterstock     Pruning trees and shrubs works muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, and hands. Think of your garden tools as exercise machines that can improve your health and fitness.

 

Prune deciduous plants during the winter months while they are dormant to encourage new growth in spring. This is a great time to prune many trees because in their dormant state it is much easier to see the branch structure. Fruit trees are best pruned mid-winter to open the tree to more light in the growing season while avoiding diseases that may result from in-season pruning.

A good way to start winter pruning is to remember the 3D rule. Is it dead, damaged, or diseased? Branches that fall under any of these three classifications should be removed before any other pruning takes place as it could easily change the shape of the host tree or shrub. Leaving such branches in place increases the potential for further damage as well as insect infestation.

  • Trees such as birch, maple, dogwood, elm and other so-called “bleeding trees” lose a great deal of sap after pruning in winter but aside from being a bit unsightly, there is no harm done to the tree.
  • A good rule of thumb is to prune no more than 1/3 of the branches that produce new growth.
  • Prune Azalea bushes before new growth shows up. Minor shaping of overgrown limbs is usually all that is necessary.
  • Prune Blueberries in the coolest part of winter. The most productive branches are those that are only a year or two old, so annual pruning can be a big help. Stems older than 3 years should be cut to ground level.
  • Cut the Butterfly Bush completely to the ground in winter and it will regrow completely in spring in plenty of time for plentiful summer blooms.
  • Prune Crape Myrtles as desired during the winter months. When properly acclimated, pruning is strictly cosmetic and not generally necessary for the health of the tree.
  • When it comes to Hydrangeas, you should do a little homework before you prune. The most common types including blue, pink and white mopheads and oakleaf hydrangeas bloom on existing “old” wood and should be left alone in winter. White flowered varieties like “Limelight” bloom on new wood and can be pruned in winter. “Endless Summer” hydrangeas bloom on both old and new growth.
  • Avoid pruning most Oak Trees in the winter when they are more susceptible to Phytophthora ramorum, the plant pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death or SOD.

 Photo: SS/Dmitrjis Dmitrijevs

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