When’s the Best Time to Prune my Tree?

Feb 01, 2023

Seasonal, Tree Care, Tree Tips

When’s the best time to prune? As Arborists, we get asked this question a lot, and like many answers in tree care, the best one is: It depends. The best way to really answer this question is by asking more questions first. 

Is the tree deciduous or evergreen?

Deciduous trees benefit from pruning during dormancy, or during winter, when the tree has lost its leaves and is storing up energy for the spring. Why?

  1. Infection by insects is minimized. This is because insects are less active during winter. Decay fungi are also sporulating and spreading less rapidly.
  2. There’s a greater opportunity to develop strong tree architecture. The best way to reduce risk over time is by removal or reduction of branches that are likely to fail. Without leaves, branches that are more likely to fail — ones that are cracked, broken, detached, excessively long, or outside the normal crown shape — are easier to spot and can be pruned right away. 

Winter is a great time to prune all trees because pruning now decreases the disruption of bird nests. It’s important not to over-prune, however, since wildlife can use dead and dying branches for food, protection, and nesting. Talk to your Arborist about finding a balance between your pruning goals and maintaining wildlife habitat in your trees. 

Speaking of goals, another important question to ask when trying to answer the question, “When’s the best time to prune,” is: 

What are your goals for the tree?

If your goal is to maximize growth, it’s best to prune deciduous trees during winter or before new growth resumes. Pruning fruit trees during dormancy, for example, helps distribute fruiting wood and allows the tree to focus new growth on the best available branches come budding season. 

Alternatively, if your goal is to minimize growth, it’s best to prune after the tree starts to bud but before it blooms. If you cut off the buds from a catalpa before they get a chance to bloom, you’ll see less flowers, of course! 

This timing is different for each individual species. Consult your Arborist on finding a balance between tree health and your goals of reducing fruiting or flowering. 

The most important thing to remember about pruning is that trees can be pruned at any time and still thrive, as long as they are not over- or incorrectly pruned. 

Proper pruning starts with defining an objective, or goal, and prescribing the least amount of branch reduction or removal that will achieve that goal. Talk to your Arborist today about pruning your tree in a way that works best for both its health, safety, and your overall goals for your property. 

Danielle from Seattle Tree Care
Post by Danielle Palmer-Friedman

Danielle was raised in southwest Florida (you may notice her roots showing in her favorite tree pick!) and moved to the greater Seattle area as a teenager. Ever since, she’s felt at home among the snow capped mountains and miles of lush green trees that surround the city. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in English Literature, and while she may be new to the world of tree care, she has almost a decade of customer service experience and looks forward to working with the Seattle Tree Care family. In her free time, Danielle enjoys writing, cooking, eating, reading, and hosting gatherings of friends and family. Favorite Tree: Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)

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