Tree experts are often asked—what’s the ideal time of year to prune trees? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think and depends on the species, its flowering habits, and any susceptibility to pests and disease.
Don’t Prune in the Spring, Late Summer, or Early Fall
Pruning during active spring growth is not ideal because plants with already-low energy reserves are forced to heal pruning wounds and grow new shoots. Late summer and early fall also tend to be bad because pruning encourages new growth that cannot mature in time to withstand winter freezes.
Why Pruning during the Winter is Best
November through March is typically the best time to prune because most plants are dormant during these months. This offers the following benefits:
- Dormant trees are less susceptible to insects and disease.
- Dormant trees heal faster, so they can grow and flower like normal when spring arrives.
- Fewer obstructions from leaves and the surrounding landscape help crews see what they’re doing.
Narrowing the Pruning Window
While pruning in the winter is usually a safe bet, keep these specific timeframes in mind:
- When to trim plants that flower early in the growing season: Trees and shrubs that bloom early on last year’s growth should be pruned immediately after flowering. Any delay might reduce next year’s flowers.
- When to trim foliage-oriented plants: Trees and shrubs grown primarily for their foliage, not their flowers, should be pruned in late winter or early spring before growth begins.
- When to trim trees vulnerable to disease: It’s always safest to prune disease-prone plants between November and March.
- When to trim “bleeders”: If pruned at the peak of the spring growing season, species like birch, elm, and maple will leak sap that attracts harmful pests. To avoid this, prune these trees in late winter.
- When to trim evergreens: Conifers, broadleaf, and narrow-leaf evergreens require little pruning. If necessary, prune them during the winter when the wood is not frozen. Cuttings taken in early December may be used for holiday decorations.
- When to trim if height reduction is the goal: Aim for early summer after the foliage has matured. If mildew or fire blight is active, wait until the leaves are dry.
- When to trim young trees: Wait at least two years after transplanting to prune a young tree for the first time.
- When to trim dead or damaged limbs: If troublesome branches cause safety hazards, trim them as soon as possible, regardless of the season or age of the tree.
When in doubt, turn to Moon Valley Nurseries for help pruning the trees surrounding your Southwestern home! Our tree care team would be happy to provide professional pruning services, ensuring a job well done while freeing up your valuable time. We also stock a nursery full of beautiful trees to add to your yard, with convenient delivery and professional planting services available. To learn more, please contact us online or visit one of our locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, or Texas.