Pruning Your Trees and Shrubs in Winter

Wintertime is prime time for pruning your trees and shrubs! With Central Florida thankfully spared snow, ice and arctic temperatures, getting out in the yard isn’t a daunting effort. But why is this season ideal for pruning? For plants that shed their leaves in autumn, the branches are bare – making it easier to see where the work needs to be done – as well as easier to access! In addition, non-evergreen trees and shrubs are dormant, which means they have ample time to recover and grow to greater fullness come spring. 

According to Tree Service Express, another plus is that winter’s lower temperatures and dry weather decrease the risk of tree infection and disease – which is typically caused or spread by bacteria, fungi, parasites and insects. This is because newly cut branch limbs create a ‘wound’ on the tree. When temperatures are lower, trees are at much less risk for disease when compared to the risk during hot and humid weather.

Now that you know why you should prune now, here’s what you need to know in order to achieve the best results for healthy, thriving trees and shrubs!

Pruning Hardwood Trees

In fact, hardwood trees and woody evergreen shrubs can be trimmed any time of year, as long as they’re not under severe stress – such as drought. The advantages of pruning in winter is that it’s well before the start of hurricane season (June 1 through November 30), and you can get a clear look at the health and stability of limbs and branches.

Clumps of parasitic mistletoe also are more readily visible and accessible to remove. In order to do so, University of Florida IFAS recommends cutting at least six inches down from where the plant is anchored to remove the roots. In trees where the mistletoe cannot be safely reached, a tree professional should be hired to spot spray an herbicide while the tree is dormant, usually December – early February. Mistletoe is very toxic to children and pets, so wear single-use gloves to pick up and properly dispose of any that falls out of the tree. Once dead or diseased branches are removed, prune out any minor branches that are crisscrossed, rubbing against another, or out of place – being sure to avoid cutting flush to the trunk so the swollen collar is left to heal.

Although you may consider yourself a hale and hearty homeowner who’s up to any landscape maintenance task, we strongly recommend hiring a professional for pruning branches that you can’t readily cut from a standing position on the ground.

Pruning Deciduous Trees – Don’t Commit Crape Murder!

For deciduous trees, it’s best to prune while the tree is dormant and has lost all of its leaves (usually in January or early February). University of Florida IFAS advises against pruning too early before the tree has gone into complete dormancy since doing so can stunt the tree and cause severe damage to any new growth during a hard freeze. While infrequent, Central Florida does experience them! Also avoid pruning too late in the spring when the tree is trying to flush out.

The lovely crape myrtle is a popular deciduous tree that graces numerous Central Florida landscapes with its delicate flowering branches. However, too many homeowners commit the crime of “crape murder” – the practice of severely pruning or topping crape myrtles in the mistaken belief it will promote fuller blooms in spring. Not only is it unnecessary, it’s detrimental to the health of the tree. This aggressive pruning method removes strong, viable limbs and encourages the growth of weak shoots that often aren’t strong enough to support the blooms. The cuts made at pruning sites also makes the tree more vulnerable to disease entering and taking hold.

According to Southern Living, the proper way to prune a crape myrtle is as follows:

“Prune only selectively in late winter to clean up random shoots or open up the canopy a bit. Late winter is the best time to do this type of pruning before the trees leaf up so you can really see those random shoots. It’s also fine to cut back any crossed or dead branches and to trim side branches from the trunk so the growth is higher.”

Pruning Woody Shrubs

Minimal pruning is typically recommended for woody shrubs. University of Florida IFAS notes that sudden severe pruning to such shrubs and bushes should be avoided. “If a shrub is blocking views or access, gradually prune it down to the desired height.”

If you plan to add woody shrubs to your yard, be sure to take care in selecting the right plant for the intended place so that its mature size doesn’t become a problem in the future.

The Advantages of Removing Trees in Winter

All of the afore-mentioned advantages of pruning trees in the winter apply to removing them, as well. Without foliage, you can better see the structure of the tree, which may reveal evidence of disease or rot. If you suspect the tree is diseased or otherwise unsound, calling a professional to examine and diagnose it during this time of year will make removing it easier, should this be necessary.

In Central Florida, dead or declining trees pose a special risk during hurricane season. As our blog post – “Why You Should Remove a Dead Tree From Your Property” – points out, trees that are dead or diseased to the point of instability can be uprooted by heavy winds and topple over onto roofs, vehicles, etc. Brittle dead branches can snap off and do likewise, and may become projectiles, crashing through windows and screen enclosures. In addition, if you have a tree on your property that you know is dead, many insurance policies won’t cover damage to your home or car if the tree falls during a storm.

Hurricanes aside, a tree may rot from the inside out, making it much more unstable than it might look. As American Cutters states, “Internal wood decay lessens or eliminates wood’s natural strength and flexibility by destroying its lignin (the strong fibers in wood). Without lignin, the wood becomes weak and can break unpredictably.”

In such a case, the tree itself or a branch could fall spontaneously, causing serious property damage, injury, or worse – and you could be liable for damages to a neighbor’s property or personal injury.

Understand that when we talk about tree removal, we’re not recommending you play lumberjack and cut it down yourself – or with the assistance of another non-professional. This is not a DIY job. Most homeowners lack the equipment, personal protective clothing and gear to safely do this – not to mention the physical ability. Even if you’re strong and sturdy, however, cutting down a tree requires more than brawn. You need to correctly determine the direction in which the tree will fall – as well as take other measures to ensure the job is done without causing injury or property damage. The money you think you’ll save by doing it yourself ultimately isn’t worth the risk.

Whether you need tree removal or tree pruning, our experienced professionals at Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing have you covered! Our full-service company is completely licensed and insured, and also provides landscape design, tree installation, yard maintenance, bush hogging, pressure washing and so much more. Contact us today so we can do the work, and you can do the enjoying! We proudly serve all of Central Florida – including Orlando, Sanford, Longwood and Lake Mary! We look forward to helping you achieve your goals and bring your vision to life!