Cleaning Up Your Own Backyard

Tree Pruning By The Season

by Warren Garcia

Your landscape trees provide shade in the summer and windbreaks in the winter. Pruning is necessary for making sure the trees are both attractive and safe. Know the trimming needs for your trees for every season so you can make sure that the trees are in the best health possible year-round.


Late winter is the time to do major pruning on most trees. Plan to prune before the buds begin to break. At this time the trees are still dormant or semi-dormant, and most pests are not yet active, so major pruning cuts can be done without compromising the health of the tree. Late winter is the time to remove crossed and rubbing branches, to remove branches to improve the framework of the canopy, and to thin out the canopy for better air circulation. Shaping can also be done at this time.


If you don't get major pruning done in late winter, you may be able to complete it in early spring for tree varieties that leaf out later in the season. You can also trim spring-flowering trees after they finish flowering but before the leaves begin to unfurl. Otherwise, only remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Sometimes you can only spot dead branches in spring after the rest of the tree begins to put on leaves.


Summer pruning is generally not necessary. You can trim out any damaged wood as needed by cutting it back to the nearest healthy wood. Avoid any major pruning, though, as trees heal slowly in the summer. Insects and disease-causing organisms are also more active, so an open wound on your tree could leave it susceptible to disease issues. Shaped evergreens, such as hedges, may also need a trim to maintain their shape, since early summer growth can lead to an unkempt appearance towards the end of the season.


Pruning in fall is generally best avoided. A trim at this time could spur on new growth, which won't be strong enough to survive winter temperatures. This weak growth leads to wasted energy, which then weakens the tree. The only exception is damage. Wait until the leaves change and begin to drop, signaling the tree has entered its dormant period and won't be putting on any new growth. Then, survey the canopy for branches that could break off in winter storms and have these removed.

Contact a tree service in your area, such as Treetime Inc, for more help.