Is It Too Late To Prune Trees And Shrubs?

Before we get to our pruning question, have you heard the latest breakthrough in plant breeding? A scientist successfully crossed a four-leaf clover with poison ivy. He had a rash of good luck.

Joking aside, we’ve had great gardening weather this fall to get pre-winter preparations finished. But someone recently asked if it’s too late to trim shrubs, because they just hadn’t gotten around to it.

Pruning of trees and shrubs is best done in early spring before they leaf out. Fall pruning is usually not recommended. Because plant growth doesn’t occur at this time of year, the pruning cuts on twigs and branches won’t heal the way they do in spring. Open wounds make tree or shrub branches more susceptible to winter injury and dieback. Pruning extremely hardy species might be ok, if the upcoming winter is mild. But that’s difficult to predict.

So we can take pruning off our late fall to-do list, and move it to early spring. Most fruit trees, shade trees, shrubs and roses are best pruned before “bud break” which is the term for twig buds beginning to open and expand into leaves. In our northern region the best months to prune are late February through March, after the coldest winter weather has passed.

There are a few exceptions. Prune evergreens in May and June. Maples and birch will “bleed” sap in early spring, so pruning can wait until they leaf out, then the sap flow is greatly reduced. The sap loss from early pruning doesn’t hurt these trees. Maples are routinely tapped heavily to make syrup.

Until next time, Happy Gardening!

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