Whether you’re pruning an evergreen or a deciduous tree, it’s always important to consider the time of year, which is one of the most important factors to consider to ensure a healthy pruning.  The ideal time of year to prune a tree depends specifically on the species, but here are a few concepts arborists take into account before pruning a tree. 

In this article we will look at pruning of evergreens specifically, which retain their foliage during winter. Common evergreens include pines, firs, hemlock, arborvitae, holly, eastern red cedar, sweetbay magnolia, and firs. 

What are the goals of pruning an evergreen? 

Not all evergreens need to be pruned. Many evergreens hold a beautiful shape as they mature and do not require much maintenance, making them a very desirable tree for yards and privacy screens. However, there is a value in pruning trees for aesthetic, health, or maintenance purposes. Removal of dead or diseased sections of the tree is always a priority to preserve the life of the tree and prevent spread to other trees. 

Tree Identity 

It essential to properly identify the tree before conducting any pruning activity. Once the species is determined, the arborist must look at the shape and branch pattern of the tree. Evergreens are grouped into two types of branch patterns – whorled (pines, firs, spruces), or random (arborvitae, hemlock, cedar, juniper). Evergreens form growth on buds on the tips of branches that were produced the previous year, and it’s important to cut according to where the buds are.  

Pruning Evergreens 

Evergreens should be pruned in the early spring before deciduous trees begin to leaf out. The temperatures this time of year reduce the chance for pests or disease to invade, as cuts are able to heal. Cutting in the spring allows time for new buds to form over the warmer weather months.  Avoid making cuts to trees during the middle of the summer unless necessary to control disease. Pests and disease peak during the summer which leaves the tree vulnerable to infection. Evergreens should not be pruned in the late autumn or fall, as they are storing up energy to support them through the winter. 

Shearing Evergreens 

Shearing is the practice of removing whole areas of the tree to form a specific shape. It may serve a purpose in an English-style garden but tends to look out of place in a more naturally landscaped yard. It becomes difficult to maintain specific shapes as the tree grows each year. Selectively pruning individual branches is preferred over the shearing technique. It’s a healthy practice to remove about a third of a pine’s crown each year to create a full, compact look. 

Candling Evergreens 

Candling is another technique you can use to control the size of pine trees, especially if located in a small, managed garden. Candling occurs in late spring and early summer (early June to early July). You’ll be able to find thick shoots on the terminal end of the branches which are indicative of the new growth the branch is producing. It’s safe to pinch off 1/3rd to 2/3rd of these candles to control growth without stunting growth.  

Pruning Evergreen Shrubs 

Evergreen shrubs, like holly, boxwoods, and yews are tolerant of pruning, which can be done in the spring and occasionally in the summer once the growing season has passed. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the late fall, so they can survive the winter.  

The key to pruning evergreen trees and shrubs is to properly identify the tree and conduct research to determine the most ideal window and technique for pruning or shearing that specific specimen.

If you would like our arborist to review your evergreens for pruning or cutting, contact us today. Working out of our office in Glen Arm, MD, we service eastern Baltimore County and western Harford County with professional tree services, including tree pruning, cutting, removal, and stump grinding.