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Home & Garden

Learning to Grow in St. Charles: Do's and don'ts for optimal winter pruning

What are the best times of year and proper techniques to safely prune trees?
What are the best times of year and proper techniques to safely prune trees?

Don’t sit inside all winter. There is work that you can do in your yard and gardens. The key is to find a nice, sunny day with little wind and temperatures that are not too cold. Those happen occasionally during Chicago winters … right?

Actually, winter is the best time to prune many trees and shrubs. According to the Chicago Botanic Garden, as soon as deciduous trees and shrubs become dormant, pruning can begin and can continue until buds show up, usually between mid-November and mid-March.

There are a few exceptions. Most evergreens should be pruned during the growing season because they do not go fully dormant, and pruned tips may be damaged by exposure to the cold.

If you are interested in bloom development in spring flowering shrubs or trees, wait until immediately after blooming to prune or you will not have flowers in the spring.

Why is it more favorable for a shrub or tree to be dormant when pruned? It lessens the likelihood of infection or infestation. Fresh wounds from pruning are open pathways for the introduction of borers or beetles that spread oak wilt and Dutch elm disease. Trees that ooze sap when pruned are inviting to insect and animal pests. These pests are not prevalent in the environment during the winter.

Another reason to prune in the winter is that the structure of a tree or shrub is more visible without leaves and is easier to shape into the desired appearance. Take the opportunity to look for dead or diseased wood, suckers at the base of trees, and crossing or rubbing branches and remove them. Thinning the canopy will encourage air circulation and prevent fungal infections.

Make sure to cut branches just above a bud so a new branch will develop. Do not cut limbs flush with the trunk, but rather at the branch collar so a healing callus can form.

Safety is important. Make sure to wear layers to stay warm. Use power equipment with caution and according to the directions. Wear goggles when pruning to protect the eyes from debris and being poked by branches. Large trees may require that you hire a certified arborist.

Darlie Simerson is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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