[This post was originally published in December 2016 and has been updated and revised.]
We often think of spring or summer for pruning our landscape plants. But a wide variety of plants in your yard can be pruned in winter.
And the more you prune, trim, and spruce up, the more organic debris you'll collect. So, you need to consider how to best dispose of the yard waste you'll pile up, as well.
You may not have known this, but late winter can be a great time for landscape pruning in many regions. In fact, the dead of winter, when the plants are dormant, is one of the safest times to prune non-Spring blooming plants.
Pruning during the dormant season provides benefits for many trees and shrubs since it gives them extra root and energy reserves that supports new growth on the remaining branches.
And properly pruned plants will produce more flowers or fruit.
Selective winter pruning can also help trees and shrubs fight off pests and diseases, requiring less care in the spring and summer. The pruning wounds are only exposed for a limited amount of time before the growing cycle begins.
Dormant-season, or winter, pruning is easier for you, too, since you can see the branches more clearly. In winter, the leaves are long gone and most woody plants are dormant. And your winter pruning will also produce piles of yard waste and debris that will need to be removed before any rains come, as well.
A Word of Caution: Tips for Pruning in Winter
Some tips for winter pruning according to Almanac.com include:
- Prune on a mild, dry day.
- When pruning, first prune out dead and diseased branches.
- Then remove the overgrown and smaller branches to increase light and air at the crown of the tree.
- In general, your goal is to keep the branches that develop or maintain the structure of the tree.
- Cut branches at the node, the point at which one branch or twig attaches to another.
Although it's difficult to kill or seriously damage a plant when pruning, you should still be careful and deliberate with your pruning efforts.
For example, the online site, Gardensalive.com, offers these tips for dressing up your garden area during the winter months:
"Garden cleanup? If it’s a herbaceous perennial (a plant that dies back to the ground every winter only to re-merge in Spring) that doesn’t have big seed pods (like peonies, for instance), go ahead and clean up the dead stuff on top of the soil; these plants are long done collecting solar energy for the season. Wait to apply an inch or two of mulch until AFTER the ground freezes hard for the season. (You’re preventing winter heaving, not keeping the plant warm.) If your ground doesn’t freeze, you don’t have to mulch."
So what plants can you safely prune in the dormant, winter season?
Turns out the list is quite extensive! Here is a partial list of some of the most common, or popular, yard plants - shrubs and trees - that can be pruned in winter.
- Camellias (after they have bloomed)
Plants You Should Not Prune in Late Winter
Pallensmith.com suggests that certain plants not be cut back in winter. This is their list of plants that are better off pruned in late spring or summer:
- Spring Flowering Shrubs such as forsythia, quince, azaleas, Bridal wreath spirea and other shrubs that bloom in spring. These should be pruned immediately after they flower.
- Spring Flowering Trees like lilacs, ornamental fruit trees and Hydrangea macrophylla. The old-fashioned, pompon hydrangeas set bloom buds on the previous year’s growth. It’s safe to remove faded flowers and dead branches.
- Once Blooming Roses, those old-fashioned roses that only flower once each growing season, such as Damasks and Mosses bloom on old wood and should be pruned in the summer after they have flowered.
- Gardenias, which should be pruned immediately after they bloom.
- And "Bleeding" trees such as maples, birches, dogwoods, walnuts and elms that produce copious amounts of sap if they are pruned in late winter. Pruning them in winter won’t hurt the trees, but it will be less messy if you wait until summer.
Of course, once you're done with all this pruning, sprucing up and thinning out, what you'll be left with is a large amount of yard debris.
It doesn't take much before you discover that your piles of yard waste and "green" trash is too much for your residential green recycling can. So what do you with all of it?
It can be a challenge to figure out what do you do with all the branches, vines, leaves, stumps, and so on.
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