When is the Best Time to Prune Trees and Shrubs? - An Expert's Guide

Pruning is an important part of maintaining healthy trees and shrubs. But when is the best time to prune? The answer depends on the type of tree and the climate in which it grows. Pruning cuts can stimulate new growth that, sadly, will die when temperatures drop to freezing. Trees and shrubs reduce their energy production when the growing season ends, so new shoots in autumn will use the plant's stored energy reserves.

There are two important reasons to delay most pruning until the weather is miserable and the temperatures are very cold. First, if pruning is done before the plant is completely dormant, it can delay dormancy. The typical response of plants to pruning is to stimulate growth. This growth stimulation can counteract the plant's beginning to stop working in response to winter dormancy.

The result is usually the death of plant branches and twigs, which can be disastrous for the plants and for all the hard work you did during the year to beautify your landscape. If you can wait for all the leaves to fall, you will allow the trees and shrubs to have a better structure and strength to get through the winter until next spring without suffering any damage. So, store the pruners for another month or two and let the plants go completely dormant. Once dormancy has established, you can prune trees and shrubs after all the leaves have fallen. Pruning during the right time of year for shrubs or fruit trees with flowers that are too large will help plants produce more flowers and fruit when spring returns.

Pruning fruit trees allows you to have an open crown instead of a messy and overwhelmed crown of branches that block sunlight from the rest of the tree. Ask a local professional what time of year a sapling should be pruned, as it can vary depending on the type of tree and the area of the country. Many believe that the best time of year to prune trees is as soon as the bright leaves begin to fall. The tree will struggle to heal in time for the cold season, which can lead to disease and decay in your tree. Since these trees have plenty of sun and less cold and adverse weather conditions, you can prune them all year round. Keeping track of all the plants, when to prune the shrubs, when to cut the flowers and when to prune the trees can be overwhelming on a to-do list.

If you're ready to try pruning, here are a few different types of trees and the best time of year to prune each one:

  • Subtropical Trees: Prune subtropical trees year-round in areas such as Florida and California due to their growing environment.
  • Trees in Cold Climates: Arborists agree that the best time to prune trees is usually in winter, after they are dormant. Cutting tree branches in summer and early fall (during the growing season) can be particularly harmful because it stimulates new growth in the tree.
  • All Trees: Before pruning any part of a tree, it is recommended that tree trimming professionals or an arborist evaluate it first.
Pruning your trees at the right time will help them stay healthy throughout winter and into spring. Knowing when to prune your trees depends on their type and location, so make sure you consult with a local professional before making any cuts.