As we’ve discussed previously, the best time overall to prune is in the dormant season. However, there are always exceptions to this rule. One question that we get all the time is “can trees be safely pruned in the spring?” The short answer is YES – as long as you follow a few important rules!
Trees and shrubs have different needs for pruning, and nearly all plants can benefit from occasional pruning or shaping to restrict its growth, or to remove old dead limbs or stems. Experts divide trees and shrubs into two types – those that flower on old wood (early-flowering trees), and those that flower on new wood (usually bloom in the late spring or summer).
Many spring-flowering trees and shrubs are said to bloom on old wood, meaning that the buds are on the stems from the previous fall. When these plants then flower in the following spring, they are said to bloom on old wood. The earlier that your tree or shrub flowers, the more likely it is to belong to this group. With these types of plants, the rule is to prune them right after their spring flowers have faded. This allows the plant to start producing the new wood that will have the buds for the following year immediately.
Some of the plants that fall into this category and should be pruned immediately after flowering in early spring include:
- Flowering cherry
- Flowering crabapple
- Flowering plum
- Mountain Laurel
You can safely remove some dead, damaged, or dying branches in the early spring, as long as you don’t remove too many tree branches. Over-pruning can cause stress on trees and shrubs, which can be damaging during their prime growing season in the spring. This could also put them at risk for disease and pests. A good rule is to avoid pruning more than 20% of a tree’s branches in any one year, and mature branch removal should be less than 10%. Below are some examples of trees to NOT prune in the springtime, and should only be pruned when fully dormant in wintertime. If pruned in the spring, it can cause the following issues for these trees:
- Oak trees (susceptible to Oak Wilt)
- Elm trees (susceptible to Dutch Elm Disease)
- Sycamore trees (susceptible to Anthracnose)
- Honey Locust trees (susceptible to Stem Cankers)
- Pear trees (susceptible to fireblight)
It is also important during the growing season to sanitize your pruning tools when moving between trees and shrubs to avoid spreading disease or infections. Your goal with pruning should always be either to prune for safety (removing dead or dying limbs), or to minimally prune for aesthetics.
Knowing what trees and shrubs to prune and when to prune them can be difficult, especially during the growing season. Don’t spend your days off dealing with this issue this spring – let our experts handle it for you! Professional arborists are knowledgeable about your trees and their needs and trained to handle a variety of issues. Give us a call today!