Pruning After a Freeze
Why prune after a freeze?
When leaves and buds get too cold and freeze, the plant will still send nutrients to the damaged leaves and buds. The plant is still semi-supporting the damaged leaves. When they are removed, the plant can put more energy toward new growth. Pruning is also for cosmetic purposes.
When should I prune?
As soon as the risk of frost has passed, the sooner you can prune it the better.
What does it look like?
Frost damage can vary by the shrub but often:
- Has brown or blackened leaves
- Is wilting and crispy
- Dead flower buds that will no longer bloom
Steps to pruning success:
- Take it down by snipping off the worst of the damage.
- It is always better to remove damaged plant material a little at a time. You risk cutting off too much and making the plant smaller than you originally intended. The amount that needs to be cut off may vary. It can be a small leaf or a large branch.
- Prune branches back to the next set of leaves or where another branch is growing. If flower buds are hit by the frost, prune them off. If there are healthy looking buds, it is okay to leave them.
- Don’t feel like you need to get flush to the next set of leaves. It is okay to leave a little bit of stem above the next leaf which will help the plant heal itself properly.
- Some plants will have existing dead branches from winter. This is a good time to prune those off as well since cleanup in general is usually between the beginning of May and mid-June in the Midwest.
- It’s important to remember as you prune you are shaping the plant at the same time. For example, unless most everything is damaged, you don’t want to leave a tall branch sticking up awkwardly out of a plant. An exception would be species of climbing plants which already feature potentially uneven upward growth.
You are looking for brown or blackened leaves or plant material that is wilting and crispy.