University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Spring Pruning Possibilities

March 18, 1999

Mention early spring pruning, and apple trees come to mind. Is early spring also the time for pruning shade trees, shrubs, and evergreens? The answer depends on the specific kind of plant involved, but spring is a good time for several species.

For example, early spring is generally a good time for pruning many shade trees. It's easy to see what needs to be pruned since the leaves are off. Wounds tend to "heal," or callus over, faster in this time period. It's best to complete pruning before buds break, however. Avoid "bleeders" such as maple, birch, and elm. It may be best to wait until fall with oaks due to oak wilt disease.

Early spring can be a good time for some deciduous shrubs to be pruned, and a poor time for others. Consider when the shrub blooms. If it's a spring bloomer, wait until just after flowering to prune or you'll be cutting off flower buds. A cut-off date of about June 15 is helpful; if the shrub blooms prior to this, prune it right after flowering. Shrubs blooming later in summer bloom on new wood, so pruning now will not be taking off flower buds.

When pruning evergreens, knowing what species involved is essential. Perhaps the best example of suggested spring pruning on an evergreen would be major pruning of yew or juniper. Do this in early April, right before new growth starts to occur. Remember when cutting back these shrubs to always leave some green shoots. Avoid pines in spring, as pines should only be pruned by pinching back or shearing new candle growth which is typically in June.

Assuming it's a good time to prune a shade tree, where does one begin? Start by using the proper equipment, including a pruning saw, loppers, and hand shears. Use each tool according to the cut that needs to be made.

Try to promote a strong framework to the tree. Remove damaged or broken branches. Thin out growth that is too congested. When deciding what branches to remove, consider where the branch is growing and what potential problems it may run into as it gets larger. How much growth to remove is sometimes difficult to say, but keep in mind the tree needs foliage this season to produce food for itself and you can always cut off more next year.

Finally, don't bother with wound dressings. Make a good clean cut and the tree will deal with it. Help the process by allowing the collar area to remain after removing a branch, rather than cutting it perfectly flush with the trunk. However, don't leave stubs to invite decay.


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