Winter Pruning is Essential to the Health of Trees

Nov 20, 2019 | Education

by Mark Ellison

During the middle of winter, most Wyoming residents are spending their time indoors, dreaming of warmer temperatures, the coming of spring and working in the yard. However, for those of you who have cabin fever and are looking for an outdoor project, consider getting a head start on this year’s yard work by pruning your trees.

Winter is considered the best time of the year to prune, while deciduous trees are dormant. Properly pruning your trees in the winter will improve their structure and strength capabilities, making them less susceptible to a late spring snowstorm, that are so common in Cheyenne.

By pruning in the winter, unwanted branches are removed, therefore not drawing energy away from the rest of the tree. Lower winter temperatures help prevent the spread of disease from pruning cuts that often occur during the growing season and winter pruning also gives the tree an entire growing season to heal pruning wounds.

Both large tree and small tree pruning are recommended in the winter. Large tree pruning is difficult and dangerous work and should be left to the experts, such as Certified Arborists. ISA Certified Arborists have at least two years experience, have completed an extensive Arborist exam and are required to take continuing education classes. When inquiring about pruning services, ask if a Certified Arborist will be overseeing the work.

Tree Pruning Graphic

Small tree pruning on the other hand, can be completed by the average citizen with some good tools and a little knowledge of pruning techniques. Most small tree pruning can be accomplished with a hand pruner, hand saw and step ladder. Make sure all tools are sharp and in good working order.

Before pruning can begin, a basic understanding of how to make a pruning cut is necessary to prevent needless damage to the tree and encourage proper wound closure.

Tree Pruning Graphic

Pruning cuts should be made just outside the branch bark ridge and branch collar. Cutting into the branch collar or leaving a stub will create a wound that will take much longer to heal. When pruning larger branches, the 3-cut method should be used to prevent the weight of the limb from tearing the bark off the tree and creating a large wound.

Now that you have the basics, pruning should begin by first making a visual inspection of the tree. All dead limbs, water sprouts and suckers should be removed first. Next, identify the best leader and lateral branches and remove competing leaders and defective branches, such as rubbing or crossing branches and narrow angled branches. Low branches should be retained for the first 4-5 years after planting and then removed to provide clearance if necessary.

Once you have completed the above recommended pruning and your tree still appears to have an overly dense canopy, then thinning should be done.

Tree Pruning Graphic

Thinning is the selective removal of branches to increase light penetration and air movement through the canopy. Thinning opens the foliage of the tree, reduces weight on heavy limbs, distributes ensuing invigoration throughout the tree and helps retain the tree’s natural shape. Spacing lateral branches 8-12 inches apart in a young tree is a good rule of thumb.

Winter tree pruning is an excellent opportunity to improve tree health and vigor and gives the homeowner a worthy project to stay busy outdoors. For any questions regarding tree pruning, please contact Cheyenne Urban Forestry at 307-637-6428


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