[This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated and revised.]
Most of us think spring or summer when it comes to pruning and yard clean up. But winter can be a great time to keep up on your yard work and maintenance.
After winterizing your home, you should know that mid-to-late winter is often a great time for pruning in many regions of the U.S. In fact, for non-Spring blooming plants, the dead of winter is one of the safest times to prune while the plants are dormant.
Winter Yard Clean Up: Taking Advantage of the Dormant Season
Pruning during this dormant season benefits many trees and shrubs. It provides them with extra root and energy reserves to support new growth on the remaining branches.
Pruning is important for most all plants, but especially flowering and fruit-bearing plants. Well-pruned plants will produce more flowers or fruit, and careful winter pruning also helps trees and shrubs ward off pests and diseases, so they will require less care in the spring and summer.
Worried about cutting your plants? No need as the pruning wounds are only exposed for a limited amount of time before the growing cycle begins. Dormant-season, or winter, pruning is easier, too, since the branches can be seen more clearly. In winter, the leaves are long gone and most woody plants are dormant.
However, pruning also produces piles of yard waste and debris that will need to be removed before the heavy rains or snow comes, as well.
Yard Clean Up Debris and a Word About Composting
If your piles of yard waste and organic debris could easily fit in one or two recycling bins, then your removal task has been greatly simplified. While it might take two or possibly three trips with your municipal waste management company to haul it all away in your bins, its certainly doable.
On the other hand, why send off all that valuable organic waste material to a landfill or to some other processing facility when you could make good use of it yourself?
We're talking about composting.
There are plenty of resources available on how to start composting, but here is a quick guide adopted from information provided by the website EarthEasy.com:
- Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds.
- Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
- Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes.
- Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
- Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.
- Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
- Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen.
Gardener Beware: Pruning in Winter Requires Care
Although pruning is, in fact, a great idea for most of your plants, you must still follow some guidelines to ensure that you don't inadvertently damage your plants. According to Almanac.com some tips for winter pruning 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.
Can you really kill your beautiful plants? While it is really quite difficult to "kill" or seriously destroy a plant when pruning, you do need to be careful and deliberate with your approach.
Another online publication, Gardensalive.com , has these tips to offer:
"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 prevent winter heaving, not keeping the plant warm.) If your ground doesn’t freeze, you don’t have to mulch."
Here is a helpful graphic that illustrates proper late winter pruning techniques:
Proper winter pruning does not have to be difficult nor particularly nerve-wracking, even for the novice gardener or landscaper. As one article pointed out when it comes to winter pruning of trees and shrubs,
"The late dormant season is best for most pruning. Pruning in late winter, just before spring growth starts, leaves fresh wounds exposed for only a short length of time before new growth begins the wound sealing process. Another advantage of dormant pruning is that it's easier to make pruning decisions without leaves obscuring plant branch structure. Pruning at the proper time can avoid certain disease and physiological problems."
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)
And There Are Plants You That 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.
One of the by-products of all this pruning, sprucing up and thinning out, is yard debris. It doesn't take much to have a collection of "green" trash that is too much for your residential-sized green recycling can or for your backyard composting bin.
So, the challenge then becomes, "What do you do with all the branches, vines, leaves, stumps, and piles of yard waste?"
Your Expert Team for Yard Clean Up Debris and Yard Waste Removal
Yard waste can come in many forms.
- Did you have a recent storm that left huge tree branches strewn across your yard?
- Have you recently undertaken a gardening or landscaping project that’s left dirt and debris everywhere?
- Do you simply have a bunch of junk and clutter in your yard that you haven’t had time to clean up?
At Junk King, we understand that for many, yard debris removal can often be a year-round requirement.
Junk King provides an efficient, safe and eco-friendly yard waste removal service so you don’t need to worry about the pick up or disposal of your yard debris. Our experienced debris removal team will break down and haul off any types of yard waste you have. Unlike the backseat of your car, our junk removal trucks are made to handle those dirty yard debris items.
Our professional and insured yard waste removal team will show up at your home on time, as promised, and we'll call 15 to 30 minutes before we arrive. Once there, we’ll also give you a free estimate based on how much room your yard waste, debris, and other junk takes up in our truck.
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