Beaver Tree Service vehicles and equipment in the midst of a tree pruning job during winter in the Winston Salem area.

Can You Prune or Trim Trees in Winter?

Can you prune trees in winter in the Winston-Salem area? Yes – but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Many people don’t give winter pruning a second thought. With the leaves gone, a chill in the air, and plenty of other things on your winter to do-list, you’re probably not putting a lot of thought into how your trees will look come spring.

However, winter pruning is a good idea for several reasons. Not only does it allow you to clean up your trees when they aren’t actively growing (which can help reduce the likelihood of stressing them) but it also lets you check off a gardening chore before things get hectic again as the weather warms up.

That said, you shouldn’t take the recommendation to prune as a license to start hacking away with your pruning shears! There are a few considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when scheduling your winter pruning.

In this post, we’ll tell you all about those considerations, as well as:

  • the benefits of winter pruning,
  • how winter pruning works,
  • which trees should (and should not) be pruned in the winter, and
  • the best tips for tackling this chore.

Let’s get started!

Beaver Tree Service uses a spider lift to prune trees during the winter months in North Carolina.

Is it OK to Prune Trees in the Winter?

It is not only okay to prune trees in the winter, but in many cases, it is recommended. Here’s why.

Winter Pruning is Less Stressful for Trees

Pruning a tree during the active growing season isn’t always a good idea, especially if the tree is unhealthy. It can stress your tree as it attempts to simultaneously recover from the pruning cuts and put out new growth. In contrast, winter pruning doesn’t stimulate new growth (because the tree is dormant).

Research shows that dormant pruning (pruning done before buds open in spring) leads to “optimum wound closure.” In other words, trees can more quickly heal from pruning cuts and will be better able fend off destructive insects and pathogens when warmer weather arrives.

Improved Spring Growth

Pruning in the winter can lead to better growth in the spring.

That’s because the fresh pruning wounds will be exposed for just a short period of time before new growth begins in the spring. When you are pruning trees that are dormant in the winter, they won’t be working on growing leaves and manufacturing sugar.

Therefore, you won’t be disrupting the tree’s growth cycle. As soon as spring begins and the weather warms, all the tree’s efforts can then be directed to the healthy buds that are on the remaining branches.

The result? Stronger, more vigorous growth in the spring.

Reduced Likelihood of Disease

Winter tree and shrub pruning can also reduce the likelihood of disease.

Many trees in the Piedmont Triad area are susceptible to disease and insect infestations. One of the best ways to prevent transmission of fatal diseases like oak wilt and Dutch elm disease is to avoid pruning during the growing season. These diseases are spread by beetles that are attracted to fresh pruning cuts (or broken branches, such as when a spring storm comes through).

The disease-causing beetles are most active during spring and early summer but can still be found until late fall. If you prune when these pests and diseases are not active – in the winter – you can reduce the likelihood of spread and keep your trees healthy.

Winter pruning is especially important for vulnerable trees like oaks and elm trees. For example, the N.C. Cooperative Extension recommends that healthy elm trees should not be pruned between April 1 and August 31.

Better Visibility

Another benefit of winter pruning is that it makes it easier to see where the pruning cuts should be made. Without flowers and foliage getting in the way, arborists can see which spots need to be pruned to maintain structural integrity, get rid of dead branches, open up your view, and more.

Lets You Detect Other Problems

Winter pruning can also help arborists detect tree health or structural issues early on. It’s a great time for arborists to conduct a tree health assessment, as well as to see vulnerable areas.

Again, without foliage, fruit, or flowers in the way, professionals can see if there are any infections, dead or diseased branches, insect damage, and more.

Beaver Tree Service uses a spider lift to prune trees during the winter months in North Carolina.

Which Trees Should You Prune in Winter?

To get the timing right when doing your winter pruning, consider your goals.

This is particularly important for trees that bear fruit or flowers. If you want to enhance flowering for trees that naturally bloom in the mid to late summer, winter is the perfect time to prune. Generally, any trees that bloom on new wood (branches that grow during the spring and summer) should be pruned in the winter, too.

Flowering trees and shrubs to prune in winter include:

  • Rose of Sharon
  • Crape Myrtle
  • Apple
  • Peach
  • Plum

Shade trees like oak and maple can also be pruned in the winter, as can evergreen trees like spruce and fir.

Which Trees Should NOT Be Pruned in Winter?

Although winter is a great time to prune for many species of trees, not all will benefit from pruning at this time of the year.

For example, spring-flowering trees should be pruned after they flower. This includes species such as:

  • Magnolia
  • Redbud
  • Lilac
  • Flowering cherry
  • Crabapple

For these species (as well as a handful of others), it’s best to prune back branches after the flowers start to fade. Trimming spring-flowering trees in winter will cut off the flower buds, leaving you with a well-shaped, green, leafy tree when spring arrives – with no flowers!

Pines should be pruned later in the spring or summer as well.

Can You Prune Trees in Summer?

If winter pruning is so good, you may be wondering why we would also prune trees in summer. Aside from avoiding cutting off all the buds on spring-blooming trees and shrubs, there are some pruning tasks that are best left for the growing season. When trees are covered with foliage, it weighs down the branches so they’re positioned a little differently than in winter.

Warm weather pruning tasks might include many of the same areas you’ll target with winter pruning, along with:

  • Removing deadwood that’s hard to identify in the winter
  • Improving the overall appearance of a tree after it’s leafed out
  • Opening up a tree to allow more sunlight into the interior or onto a lawn below

How Winter Pruning Works

If you’re interested in adding winter pruning to your annual tree care checklist, here is what you can expect.

Beaver Tree Service reduces the canopy of a tree in Winston Salem during a sunny December day.

Tree Assessment

The first thing that needs to be done during winter pruning is to assess which spots need to be pruned.

Experts will inspect the tree for the following:

  • Crossing or rubbing branches
  • Branches that interfere with overhead wires or pose other hazards
  • Dead or diseased areas
  • Suckers and water sprouts
  • Signs of insect problems

They might also consider whether the canopy needs to be thinned to improve air circulation or accentuate the structure of the tree.

Winter Pruning Timeline

Once your tree care professional determines what needs to be done, he or she will go about the actual task of pruning your tree. The amount of time it takes to trim a tree in the winter varies, but it usually takes a few hours per tree.

While we do our best to stick to the schedule we’ve given you, weather can affect even the best-laid plans!

Dealing with the Weather

Here in the Winston-Salem area, it’s uncommon for the ground to freeze in winter. If it does freeze, that can actually make pruning easier since we can bring in heavy equipment without damaging the landscape.

If it doesn’t – and if the ground is muddy – you don’t have to worry, either. We have more than 60 mats we can lay down for equipment to drive on. These mats work well on flat surfaces to help minimize lawn damage and make our work more efficient.

Most of the time, our arborists can deal with anything that Mother Nature throws our way. But if the weather is exceptionally icy or slippery, we may need to reschedule to keep everyone (including your trees!) safe.

When is the Best Time to Prune Trees?

Trees can – and should – be pruned during the winter. In fact, winter is one of the best times to tackle this tree care task!

However, it’s not a task that you need to tackle yourself. With conditions that frequently become wet, icy, and slippery, it’s a good idea to leave this chore up to the tree service professionals. As a homeowner, it’s safest to limit yourself to pruning small branches that you can easily reach from the ground.

Beaver Tree has the skills, tools, and safety equipment necessary to tackle your tree care at any time of the year. Contact Beaver Tree for your winter tree pruning. We’re happy to schedule you for your tree pruning services or a consultation!

LEARN MORE > Pruning & Trimming FAQs