Many people don’t think about their outdoor plants until springtime, but many trees and shrubs should be pruned during the winter before new growth begins. February and March are the best months of the entire year to prune fruit, flowering, and shade trees. Pruning in late winter or very early spring keeps you from inadvertently cutting off growing branches. If you wait till spring after new growth has started, you could damage the plant. Food stored in the roots and stem is used to develop new growth. This food should be replaced by new foliage before it is removed. If it is not, dwarfing of the plant may occur.
Forsythia, quince, spirea and other early spring flowering shrubs should be pruned a little later, after they have finished flowering. You can even cut a few branches early and force them into early bloom in warm water.
Pruning is done for four main reasons:
To train the plant
To maintain plant health
To improve the quality of flowers, fruit, foliage or stems
To restrict growth
The rules of pruning vary with different plants. But there are some main rules to follow. You should always prune damaged or dead parts to avoid additional insect and disease problems that may develop. You should not prune in late summer as this may encourage new growth that won’t have time to harden off before cold weather arrives and could result in damage or even death to the plant.
Here are some general pruning tips that will help:
1. First remove all dead, broken, diseased or problem limbs by cutting them at the point of origin or back to a strong lateral branch (a branch originating from the main trunk).
2. Next make training cuts. By cutting back lateral branches, you help to train the tree or shrub to maintain its natural shape.
3. Eliminate weak or narrow crotches and if there are two main leaders, eliminate the weaker of the two. Also eliminate branches that cross over each other as rubbing can cause damage and invite disease.
4. Remove water sprouts (the sprouts that grow next to the trunk).
5. Take a step back and assess your work. If you’ve removed a large amount of wood, further pruning may have to be delayed until next year.