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Timeline Through Landscape Design

A blog to guide home gardeners with seasonal landscape improvements.
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Late Winter through Early Spring is a Good Time to Prune: Build Pruning into Your Landscape Maintenance Plan


Proper pruning is a must when it comes to trees and shrubs. Not only will it improve aesthetics, it will improve the structure and longevity of your woody landscape plants. Now is the time to prune.

Here are some steps to follow when pruning deciduous shrubs and trees:

Reasons for pruning:

  • Safety – hazard limbs, sight lines, utilities
  • Health – disease/infestation, air circulation, structural strength, rejuvenation
  • Aesthetics – plant form, flowering, special shapes
  • Size control – only temporary

Steps to successful pruning:

  • For the first three years, limit pruning to dead, broken or diseased limbs.
  • Make all cuts at a bud or branch junction.
  • Whenever possible, maintain the upper two-thirds of the tree branches and foliage.
  • Remove no more than 25% of the foliage in a season.
  • Never top a tree, leave a stub or remove a branch collar with a flush cut to the trunk.
  • Disinfect pruning tools with rubbing alcohol, disinfectant spray or antiseptic mouthwash between trees/shrub cuts to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Use the right tool for the job; keep tools sharp.

Timing of pruning:

Winter – most common time to prune, best when trees/shrubs are dormant

Spring – prune after flowers fade on spring blooming plants (avoid pruning elms and oaks until fall due spreading of disease)

Summer – prune to slow growth; shape hedges

Fall – wait until late fall when plant is dormant (prune bleeders now until early winter: birch, maple, elm, walnut)

Prune dead, diseased or crossing branches anytime

Pruning flowering plants:

Non-showy – prune when dormant

Early spring bloom – prune after bloom; bloom on old wood

Summer or fall bloom – prune when dormant; typically bloom on new wood

Spring bloomers include: Azalea, Forsythia, Lilac, Bigleaf and Oakleaf Hydrangeas, Redbud, Crabapples and Magnolias. Summer bloomers include: Rose of Sharon, Honeysuckle, Snowberry, Privet and some species of Spirea.

Making the cut:

  • Cut ¼" above a bud (see next diagram)
  • Make a 45° diagonal cut; angling away from bud
  • The new twig will grow in direction the bud faces
Refer to the images above for visual aids when cutting shrubs and trees.

Content and images referenced from:

Pruning and Care of Trees and Shrubs, prepared by F.A. Giles

Under the Canopy, Creating Personal Greenspace – A Guide to Selecting, Planting and Caring for Trees in Illinois 2nd Edition

University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Manual 2nd Edition

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