Winter is usually not the time when most people start thinking of their gardening or landscaping. However, tree pruning between mid-November and mid-March, when your trees and shrubs are dormant, provides benefits to you and to your plants.
Benefits for You
It’s easier to inspect the branches of deciduous plants for signs of disease and insects when there are no leaves in the way. It is also easier to observe the direction in which the branches are growing and to see where they need thinning. Doing some tree trimming in Fort Worth on a mild winter day gives you the chance to get outdoors, get some sun and fresh air, exercise, and get rid of the winter blues. Pruning in the winter also means you don’t need to make time for it during the growing season when the garden and other landscaping plants need attention.
Benefits for the Plants
Pruning damaged, diseased, deformed, dead, and dying branches in winter reduces the chances that the cuts you make will attract insects or spread disease. However, if you are concerned about carrying disease between your plants, you can disinfect your equipment with a 10 percent solution of either bleach or rubbing alcohol. Use 2 tablespoons of bleach or alcohol for each cup of water.
During the growing season, plants extend their root systems and store food in them to support the growing branches. Removing branches in the winter leaves the plant with more roots and food resources than are needed to support the branches that remain after pruning. The resources from those roots then support more flowers and fruits or new, healthy, well-directed branches. To be honest, more flowers and fruits actually benefit you, as do properly selected branches. Future pruning is easier to maintain after you have thinned the tree and eliminated wayward branches.
What to Prune and When
If you want to enhance flowering, prune trees and shrubs that bloom in mid- to late summer in winter. To prevent disease, oak, hawthorn, locust, mountain ash, apple, and crab apple trees also should be pruned in winter. In fact, the scent of freshly trimmed oaks attracts the beetle that causes oak wilt; so only trim oaks in the winter when the beetle hibernates.
While you should remove limbs that are broken, damaged, or diseased as soon as you notice them, avoid any other types of pruning in the fall. Cuts seem to heal more slowly at that time of year, and, at the same time, decay-causing fungi spread spores more abundantly then — not a healthy combination for your trees or shrubs.
When inspecting branches for signs of disease or insect infestations, look for open lesions, darkened areas, unusual swelling, and egg masses left by gypsy moths, tussock moths, or tent caterpillars. This provides you with information on whether or not you need an expert in grub treatment. Also remove suckers growing around the base of the tree and water sprouts growing vertically from larger branches. Both grow rapidly and weaken the tree with the amount of nourishment they consume.
Branches that cross and rub against each other can create open wounds that invite insects and diseases. Remove the larger of the crossing branches unless doing so would ruin the look of the tree. Also trim branches that hang down where you walk or mow. Finally, start at the center of the tree and work outward, thinning the branches that create a dense growth that blocks sunlight and air circulation.
Doing your tree pruning in winter is healthier for your trees, and easier without the leaves. You can avoid having to clean up the leaves after a trimming and you can spend less time outside during the winter weather.