When it comes to pruning, when is the right time? Spring? Fall? Anytime? And that’s the problem…there are so many options for so many different types of plants, bushes, and shrubs that it can be hard to keep it all organized. In this quick guide, we’ll look at the most optimal times to prune the most common parts of your landscaping.
First, look for the Three D’s – dead, diseased, and damaged. Anytime you see stems that have any of the Three D’s, you can prune them, no matter what the season. Dead stems left alone will just invite insects and disease, so get rid of them as soon as you notice them.
Anytime is also a good time to remove shoots that are growing upright from the trunk or side branches, or near/below ground. These new shoots will zap the energy from the rest of the tree, and trimming them will allow that energy to go into the main parts of the tree where it’s needed.
Trees/Shrubs – Spring-Flowering
Early-spring bloomers will bear their flowers on the wood formed during the previous year, so pruning in late spring is the best. Wait until they finish blooming, then immediately prune. Remember that plants are all about energy, so if you remove the oldest shoots right down to the ground, the younger stems will use that energy to grow and bloom heartily!
Trees/Shrubs – Summer-Flowering
Summer bloomers don’t have to wait a year to bloom on last year’s growth; they produce their flowers on the current season’s growth. The best time to prune these plants is during the winter when the plant is dormant, or in the early spring before they’ve started their new growth cycle. You can even cut them completely down in the late winter, and you’ll still see plenty of blooms that summer.
To obtain, and keep, a solid wall of green, shear new growth frequently during the early part of the season, keeping the top narrower than the base to prevent overshadowing. Stop trimming around six weeks prior to your location’s typical first frost. If you’re going for a privacy hedge look, select shrubbery that will only grow as tall and as wide as you need it, to prevent having to shear so often.
For once-a-year bloomers, always wait until after blooming has finished to perform any pruning. Repeat-bloomers, on the other hand, should be cut back in the early spring to prevent them becoming overgrown, and to remove winter-damaged canes.
Deciduous Shade Trees
Hardwood shade trees such as oak and ash should be pruned during the winter when they are dormant. Avoid spreading diseases by pruning during the winter instead of summer. For deciduous trees that produce sap, you can wait until the leaves have expanded in the summer to prune, but if you want to prune during the winter, the running sap will not hurt the tree at all.
Deciduous Fruit Trees
Most deciduous fruit trees should be pruned during the mid-winter when they’re dormant. This will “open up” the tree to allow more light in, and will result in a stronger, sweeter fruit crop. Avoid summer pruning as much as possible to prevent the spread of bacterial disease via the pruning wounds.
Trees and shrubs with needle- or scale-like foliage should be pruned early in the growing season. And don’t worry about mid-winter pruning to collect holiday greenery – it won’t hurt the tree at all, so long as you don’t over-cut. Avoid cutting into wood that has no green needles, as it will likely not sprout new growth if you do so.
Pine Trees and Shrubs
True pines form buds only at branch tips before the stem gets woody, so prune before the new shoots turn woody and the needles have expanded. You can prune up to half of the expanding “candle” of new growth, but no more than that.
Remove faded flowers at any time, and your perennials will simply look better. When you do this, many perennials will push out new blooms, so it pays to keep up with this small chore. If your flowers become too tall, shear them back to 6-12 inches above ground. This will cause them to branch and become fuller. Most perennial flowers look best if you remove faded flowers. This is called deadheading. As a bonus, many perennials will push out another cycle of blooms after deadheading.
As with perennials, remove old blooms as needed. This will keep your annuals from going to seed, and will allow more energy to be put into blooming. If you start seeing bare stems, trim back to allow for more compact growth, and fuller blooms.
For caned berries, prune old, dead canes anytime. After two-year old canes finish bearing fruit, they can be pruned back as they will not fruit again, and can result in disease if left alone. For new canes, prune back the tips when they reach 2-3 feet tall so that they will branch out. For bush berries, prune out about a third of the oldest stems each winter. Doing so will allow for more productive plants in the summer.