Advantages to Pruning in Winter

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This first article in Taylor’s 2019 Winter Guide to Lawn and Garden Preparation is about winter pruning. Over the next couple of months, we’ll talk about what to plant in early spring in Virginia’s climate and preparing your backyard for spring.

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When Should You Prune Your Plants?

Perennial plants have a growing cycle that correlates with the seasons. During cold winter months, their pace of growth is slowed to a crawl as the shorter days don’t afford much nourishment. Deciduous trees shed their leaves in winter and become dormant while the harsh winds rage on.

Seasons When You Should Not Prune

When spring comes in a few months, your garden plants will begin their sprout phase. Flowering plants will bud and the deciduous trees will grow back their leaves. At this point, regardless of if the shrub or tree is not properly pruned, it will start growing into the shape it is currently in. If you wait too long to fix the issue you might disrupt its growth.

Alternatively, pruning in the autumn months poses another hazard for plants. When a plant is freshly pruned, it has some exposed surface area that is susceptible to rot and insect infestation. If the plant is beginning to go dormant for the winter months, it will not develop the necessary protection over the pruning wounds. Winter will come and a portion of the plant may die during its most vulnerable time of the year.

Winter’s Advantages

Pruning in late winter and early spring sets your landscaping up for success by making the cuts in time for it to recover before its growth spurts. Along with the plant itself being dormant, so are the insects and diseases that could infect the wound. It is also a bit easier with deciduous plants because you can see the shape of the tree better without leaves in the way. You may have plenty of garden work to do once spring has sprung so taking care of this task could help you stay ahead when you have the time to.

Why Should You Prune Your Plants?

Pruning can either be done for aesthetic purposes or for its health. If, however, you have a plant that blooms in the springtime, you will need to wait to prune until after it is finished blooming. Check out Better Homes & Gardens’ list of what to prune when.

As opposed to shearing, pruning is a much more selective process. Shearing involves chopping of the tips of branches and hedges to give the plant a haircut. When you prune, though, you should be operating at the base of the twig or branch where it connects to a larger branch or to the main trunk. Your snips should cut off your target branch or twig without cutting into the branch collar. The branch collar is the base of the branch or twig that is slightly swollen with a reinforcement of extra woody mass. If you cut in the branch collar, you could hurt the plant.

You should target diseased or dead sections of the tree or bush before considering the overall aesthetic of the plant. When you prune off the dead weight, it helps the plant utilize its growing energy more effectively. The plant will grow fuller and healthier than it would if you left it to its own devices.

Getting Started This Year

With these tips in mind, take stock of the woody plants on your property. Do you see any dead or dying sections of trees? Would you like some plants to develop better foliage? Are there some plants that you would like to encourage their development of flowers or fruit? Deciding what you need to do now is best because you will need to pick a dry and mild day to prune your plants. Waiting until too late in the season to assess the situation may leave you with a job half done or with wet weather affecting the quality of your plants.

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Good luck pruning! Stay tuned for the next installment in Taylor’s 2019 Winter Guide to Lawn and Garden Preparation!

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