If there is one time of year that gardeners should earn a rest, you might think winter would be it. Gardening does slow down in the winter, but a gardener’s task list is never completed. Pruning is a great winter task that I look forward to because it means spring growth is just around the corner!
Pruning is used to train plants, maintain plant health, improve quality of flowers, fruit or foliage, and to restrict growth. Advances in plant breeding and selection have provided a wide range of plants that require very little, if any, pruning, but there are some plants that need a good trim.
The best time to prune many plants is late winter and early spring. We want to prune at a time when there will be the least amount of damage to the plant. Plan to prune before plants put on new growth in the spring. In the spring, plants put considerable energy into developing new growth. If you wait too long and prune off that new growth, the plant has used up a lot of its resources and doesn’t have the new growth available for photosynthesis.
Plan your cuts by following a plan. First, remove all dead, broken, diseased, or problem limbs. Cut them at the point of origin or back to a strong lateral branch or shoot. Second, you can make any training cuts that are necessary. Lateral branches are branches that originate from the main trunk. You can prune lateral branches to help train your plant to a desired shape. Be sure to know the natural growth habit of your plant so you can prune for a natural look (i.e. shrubs are not naturally square). Finally, make any corrective pruning cuts to eliminate narrow crotches, double leaders, or water sprouts. It’s helpful to take a step back and check your work.
Many people call me to ask about pruning paint or wound dressing. Research has found that wound dressing is not necessary and might slow down the healing process. The only exception to this rule is for oak trees. We have oak wilt in Williamson County, so you need to take care to paint all pruning cuts with a latex paint within 15 minutes of the cut to prevent the spread of the disease.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has great instructions for pruning specific types of plants at https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/proper-pruning-techniques/.