Winter is the Best Season to Prune for Healthy Shrubs and Trees

Why is winter the best season to prune your landscape? During this time, the growth of shrubs and trees really slows down, and sometimes stops all together. Cold outdoor temperatures limit insects’ ability to get into pruning cuts. In addition, nasty and sticky sap is not running hard when it’s cold, so pruning cuts won’t weep sap onto your hardscapes.

For deciduous trees—those that lose their leaves—an expert pruner can remove far more limbs and plant material in the winter, as there are no leaves to reduce photosynthesis. The rule of thumb for in-season pruning is to not remove more than one-third of growth in any given season, as removal of more than this will inhibit the plant’s ability to photosynthesize and can really damage a plant.

Another benefit of pruning in the winter is that when a tree is without leaves, a pruner can truly see its shape or structure. This can help improve the overall look of your landscape. Also, the pruner can get into interior branches to thin unruly growth. A pruner can lift the bases of plants, to get them off the ground to enhance maintenance in-season, clean underneath, and see irrigation emitters to check and ensure irrigation is working properly.

When it comes to evergreen trees—those that keep their “leaves,” or needles—the same rules apply. One important consideration to keep in mind, particularly for our native juniper and pinyons, is that hard pruning (cutting a plant down to six or 12 inches in height) can stress these trees, yet winter pruning seems to have little effect. So, again, winter pruning is best.

For shrubs in the landscape, all the same rules apply, with one important difference: winter pruning can stimulate new growth in shrubs. Vitex, butterfly, and Russian sage all respond very well to hard winter pruning, and new growth can be visible soon after, even in the winter.  A great added benefit is that you will have ample flowers the following year!

It’s always best to consult an experienced landscape professional for winter pruning. There really is nothing like giving your plants a good haircut, so come spring, they are healthy and vibrant for the warmer months ahead!

For more information visit or call 928.830.3480.