Now is the Right Time to Prune

Wondering when to prune your trees and shrubs? It turns out between now and when buds start to swell is a great time if you haven’t done it already; mid-November to mid-March is the window. Make sure your pruning tools are clean and sharp before you start. These tips are from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

  • Think about what you want to do before you start. Prune to enhance the natural features of the plant, not cut it back to make it shorter or round the top. Certain plants can be pruned to make a hedge but this is the only reason to prune in a way that does not enhance the natural form.
  • Start by removing dead or diseased wood first. You might know this because there is no evidence of last year's growth at the end of the branch. Or, perhaps you noticed it last fall. Dead branch tips will snap off when you try to bend them.
  • Remove all suckers that sprout from the base of the tree and all "water sprouts" that grow at right angles to the branch.
  • Remove crossing or rubbing branches. Ideally this is something you are doing when the tree is young so you don't have this problem when it is older and larger.
  • Thin the canopy starting from the center and moving out. The goal is to increase air circulation and showcase the plants natural form. But don't remove more than ┬╝ of the plant in any one season. Work slowly and deliberately so the tree or shrub continues to look balanced and natural.
  • Prune back to a bud or a branch; look where the bud you are pruning to will direct new growth. If you are removing a larger limb only cut back to the natural collar of the branch. Don't cut flush with the trunk.
  • Look for signs of insect problems or disease. Evidence of undesirable insects such as egg masses from gypsy moths can be removed by hand or pruned out. Catching these issues now will help avoid problems in the spring.
  • Always disinfect your tools to avoid spreading disease. CBG recommends a 10% solution of rubbing alcohol and water (about 2 tablespoons of alcohol to 8 ounces of water.)
  • Always wear safety glasses and if you think you need to prune larger trees seek the advice of a certified arborist.

And by the way, don’t prune shrubs now that flower on new growth such as forsythia and lilac or you will cut away all the flower buds. Prune these species within two weeks after flowering.

Pruning properly and at the right time will keep your trees and shrubs healthy and beautiful for years to come!


For more information see:

Chicago Botanic Garden   This includes a helpful video! ,


Morton Arboretum