What is Dormant Pruning?
Dormant Pruning is a style of pruning that allows you to greatly reduce overgrown shrubs and trees, as well as maintain plant structure to improve the plant’s longevity. This practice is commonly done to deciduous trees and shrubs in the fall. You only want to dormant prune when the plant is in its “resting” period – starting in late fall season and ending in early spring. This process helps to allow the plants to be pruned into a much smaller size, increasing the plants “shelf life”, not allowing it to outgrow the area it has been planted in. Also, it will help to ensure the long term health and vigor of these landscape plants if completed on a regular basis.
What are the Benefits of Dormant Pruning?
- Reduces the plant size as needed to maintain the ideal size within the area it has been intended grow.
- Thins the interior of the plant to improve air circulation, thus helping to minimize insect and disease problems.
- Remove crossing branches which could potentially damage the plant as they grow together.
- Improves the overall appearance of the landscape.
- Saves money by extending the life of the plant within the landscape.
- Improves the overall ascetics of the property.
- Adds value to the property by bringing a more professional overall appearance.
When to Dormant Prune
We recommend doing your pruning from late-November to early-March. This is the natural hibernation and dormancy period which means you can prune your plants without jeopardizing the health of your plants.
During the fall, plants energy is stored primarily in the trunk and root system to support the top portion of the plant. This is an ideal time to rejuvenate the plant if it has become too large or out of shape. If a large portion of the plant is removed during the winter, while the plant is dormant, the plant’s energy reserve is unchanged. Note: Never remove more than 25% of the plant in one pruning. Always remember, dormant pruning may results in fewer flowers the upcoming season depending on the variety of plant.
Pruning Basics throughout the year.
In the spring, plants respond by producing a strong “flush “of new growth. If this happens to be a flowering plant this “new growth” should be pruned according to the time of the season it flowers. Early flowering, before June, (Forsythia, Lilac, Azaleas) wait until after they flower since they typically flower on last year’s growth. Late flowering, after June, (Spiraea, Hydrangea, Rose of Sharon) can be pruned early, in March and April, since they typically bloom on the current years new growth.
Summer pruning is an excellent time to shape most landscape plants. Pruning can begin as soon as the buds start to grow, but is generally completed after the plant has put on it major “flush” of new growth. For most purposes, summer pruning should be limited to removing the upright and vigorous current season’s growth. This typically starts around June first and continues until mid- August. To minimize the potential for winter injury, summer pruning should not be done after August.
Fall pruning can generally be started in mid- October to early November. Ideally, a summer prune would have been completed earlier. Fall would be more of a touch–up prune, cleaning up wild shoots and select dormant pruning. Heavy pruning can possibly result in the plant sustaining “winter damage or winter kill “especially on evergreen shrubs.
General Pruning Tips:
- Avoid shearing plants as much as possible. Shearing promotes a dense outer growth which does not allow proper sunlight to fall into the body of the plant. This often creates a “dead zone” below the green foliage which will not allow for future heavier pruning. This is particularly bad for evergreens shrubs. Proper pruning is ideally done by making hand cuts, one at a time, a slow process not always feasible. Shearing also promotes poor air circulation which can lead to fungus concerns as well as enhancing insect activity.
- Besides reducing size, you should also remove suckers, dead or diseased wood and crossing branches. Dead or diseased wood will have a distinct off-color compared to the rest of the branches of the plant. Crossing branches will potentially rub on one another causing damage to either.
- Always try to make a 45 degree diagonal cut approx. one fourth of an inch above a protruding branch. Also, always try to make a cut just outside the “collar” of the branch (cut through the straight part of the branch, not the flare as it approaches the parent branch).
- Try to avoid “topping” trees which have a main central leader. This process will weaken the trees structure and make it more susceptible to diseases, insect and storm damage.
- Always pick up and remove all pruning debris and fallen leaves. Insects overwinter in fallen plant debris as well as promoting future disease concerns.