Before we talk about the benefits of winter pruning, let’s discuss what pruning is, when to do it, and why to do it.
According to Wikipedia, pruning is a horticultural and silvicultural practice involving the selective removal of certain parts of a plant, such as branches, buds or roots.
Many experts agree winter is a good time to prune. So, sharpen your shears and prune on a mild day. Cut out dead and diseased branches first. Then remove overgrown branches. Make sure to keep all the branches critical to the structure of the tree.
There are a few reasons.
- Pruning allows you to shape your plant and maintain its size so it looks the way you want it to look. By cutting certain parts, you can control the way the plant is growing.
- Removing dead, diseased or damaged branches enables you to maintain the plant’s appearance while improving its growth.
- Cutting off dead branches or branches that interfere with or obstruct pathways reduces the risk of branches breaking during a snow storm and causing safety issues.
Now we know what pruning is, when to do it, and why to do it. Read on to learn four benefits of winter pruning.
1. Reduce the threat of damage.
When we cut ourselves, we get a wound. The same is true for plants. One benefit of winter pruning is that the cut doesn’t adversely affect the plant in the winter. Winter is a plant’s dormant season. When plants are dormant, they heal faster. This reduces the threat of damage.
Also, if you prune in the warmer weather, your cuts will attract insects. Some of those insects carry diseases, which could seriously damage the plant. Another risk when pruning in the warmer weather is that plants start to bud and you might mistakenly cut a new bud.
2. Maintain the tree/plant’s structure.
In the winter, the leaves are off trees and plants. This is a good time to evaluate the structure and make decisions about how you want it to grow. The lack of leaves also allows you to see which branches are critical to the structure. It’s important you don’t cut any of those branches. If you try to prune in the late spring or summer, with all of the leaves and flowers growing, there’s always a risk you’ll cut the wrong branch and ruin the structure of your tree or plant.
3. Mitigate safety risks.
Another benefit to pruning in the winter is that you can easily identify the dead and dangerous branches. When we get a snowstorm, or worse an ice storm, these branches become a safety hazard. If they fall to the ground, they could hit a person or a structure in your yard. Pruning broken or dead branches will prevent them from falling and mitigate safety risks.
4. Increase growth.
By cutting off things like water sprouts and root suckers, you’re helping the tree grow. Water sprouts are vigorous, usually, upright shoots developing from dormant buds on the trunk or large branches of a tree. In many cases, pruning or removal of large branches stimulates dormant buds into growth.
Water sprouts should be removed as soon as possible because water sprouts:
- Are energy wasters. They ruin the tree’s shape and divert energy from the healthy parts of the plant.
- Make trees vulnerable to disease, as they provide a way for pathogens to enter. Pruning water sprouts in the winter when the tree is dormant rejuvenates the tree, minimizes the chance of disease and pests and gives it time to heal so you’ll see increased growth in the spring.
Late winter pruning is an important part of landscape maintenance. Although you may rather garden when it is warm, cutting and pruning while the plants are dormant is better and healthier for the plants. With the exception of spring-blooming plants like azaleas, lilacs, hydrangeas (you don’t want to remove the spring buds), now is the ideal time to tackle pruning of overgrown shrubs and trees, giving them the spring and summer to rejuvenate.
So, get out there on a mild, winter day and start pruning!