Sunflower Acres is a revolutionary garden center and farm in the mid-Willamette Valley in Oregon.

From The Experts – December

From The Experts – December

Winter Pruning in the Garden: Trees & Shrubs

Although the weather outside has turned   chilly and the ground may be frosty in the mornings, winter is the best time of year to prune most deciduous trees and shrubs* in your garden.

Between now the end of February, most trees and shrubs have gone dormant, making it the perfect time to prune and shape safely – and often most easily. The leaves have fallen, making it easy to see the plants’ structure, and there is less chance of spreading diseases from one plant to the next, or creating open wounds for insects. (See the exceptions at the end of this page.)

With our handy guidelines below, plus a sunny day and a pair of pruners, your garden plants will be happy you gave them a little love and attention this winter, so they are ready to perform at their best next spring.

Safety first.

Always protect yourself in the garden when doing heavy work such as pruning or work that involves spraying for insects, diseases, or weeds. For pruning work, we recommend gloves with a good grip and eye protection (to prevent branches or twigs poking or flying into your eye). Also, in the case of extremely large branches or very tall trees, it may be more prudent to call in a certified arborist.

Decide what to prune and why.

Winter is best to prune deciduous trees and shrubs. Refrain from placing any evergreen plants in the garden on your list. Take a walk through your yard and garden to see which plants might need to be pruned for height or width, or which should be pruned to maintain a natural shape.

Remove the unwanted.

Suckers and water sprouts

During the growing season, plants may develop dead wood or diseased branches that weren’t visible when the leaves were on. Any dead wood or wood that looks diseased should be removed. If the plant has grown suckers or water sprouts (stems that grow straight from the base or branch angles), remove these as well; they won’t develop into anything desirable, and take away from the mother plant.

Know where and how far back to prune to.

Prune back to a bud or a branch to avoid creating wounds that could be susceptible to disease, and to keep a desirable form. Avoid leaving large stubs or open ends when pruning. Also, a new branch will grow where you made your cut, so be mindful of pruning to an outward-facing bud to prevent cross branching.

Remove branches growing in the wrong place.

Example of crossed branches

Often times a plant will be growing so vigorously that branches end up crossing or rubbing each other, which could become troublesome later. Starting with the largest branches and moving to the smallest, remove those branches that are crossing in the wrong direction or rubbing other branches.

NOTE: Larger crossed branches that were not properly pruned from a young age should remain. You don’t want to cause large wounds or to leave the plant badly misshapen.

Prune with a sharp eye.

Your trees and shrubs are often the focal point in your garden. When pruning, step back often and look at your work. This ensures that you are keeping a natural, balanced shape. You can always cut off more, but once pruned, you can’t put it back on. Be sure you are making the right cuts.

Create more air flow.

Plants can tend to become quite dense over time, especially if not pruned regularly. Create more air flow through the branches and open up the structure by thinning some branches from the canopy. Start from the center and move to the outside of the tree, removing roughly one-quarter of the density. This allows for growth next season and helps keep fungal diseases at bay.

Diseased twigs and branches

Keep an eye out for insects and diseases.

Most insects and diseases have also gone dormant in winter, but once a plant has been pruned and cleaned up, it’s easier to inspect visibly for these pests. In the winter, you can often see egg masses of moths and caterpillars or dark areas on otherwise lighter-colored branches. To prevent an outbreak in the spring, remove any signs of insects or dark areas by hand-pruning.

Care for your tools.

Clean and disinfect your tools any time you are pruning, especially during the growing season. This helps prevent diseases from spreading from one plant to the next. We recommend dipping your pruners in a solution of 10% rubbing alcohol and 90% water.

*Note the exceptions!

Most deciduous trees and shrubs are safe to prune this time of year. The following, however, should not be pruned in the winter—or you will be pruning off next season’s blooms or causing excess bleeding (sap):

Spring Flowering Trees – Dogwoods, lilacs, and ornamental fruit trees such as cherries and pears.

Bleeding Trees – Birches, elms, and maples produce large amounts of sap when they are pruned in late winter. It’s best to wait until summer to prune these varieties. However, Japanese maples are safe to prune in the winter because most branches are small.

Spring Flowering Shrubs – Forsythia, quince, deciduous azaleas, and Hydrangea macrophylla. It is best to prune these shrubs immediately after their bloom cycle.


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Sunflower Acres Farm & Garden™

PO Box 5843
Salem, OR 97304
Phone: 503-967-5902

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