The When, Why, & How of Pruning Your Trees

When is the Best Time to Prune Trees?

Though there are always exceptions, the general rule when pruning trees is that it best to do so during their “dormant” season. In California, dormant season for most trees is winter. The absolute best time to prune is after the coldest part of winter has passed.

Trimming trees and other plants during or after blooming season can “dwarf” or stunt their growth. It can permanently damage the tree’s growth cycle and keep it from producing fruit, leaves, or blossoms.

Pruning in summer or in fall (especially early fall) isn’t recommended either, because fresh cuts during that time of year are more likely to spread bacteria and fungi spores and to attract disease-carrying insects.

Why is Tree Pruning Important?

Most homeowners think that pruning trees and shrubs is purely about shape and aesthetics. The truth is, that pruning is incredibly healthy for your trees. It reduces wind resistance against the tree which can save it from storm damage.

Pruning is also necessary to remove disease-ridden branches that might spread further to the rest of the tree if not handled.

Removing damaged or dead branches promotes growth during proper seasons, encouraging fruit and flower production. It also reduces the risk to your house or your family by reducing the risk of falling dead branches or fallen trees during a storm.

Types of Prunning

Common types of tree pruning are crown lifting, crown thinning, crown reduction, and pollarding.

Crown lifting raises the general crown-height by cutting the lower branches. This is helpful to simply make more room underneath for human access, let more light in, or open up more of a view. It can also keep branches away from buildings or traffic.

Crown lifting should be done with care, as cutting too many of the lower branches at once risks injuring the tree. Possible injuries include sunburn on the lower trunk, discolored wood, epicormics growth, and possible decay inside the trunk.

Crown-thinning reduces the thickness of the tree crown by removing branches evenly throughout the crown. This can be helpful with regards to storm prepping. Thinning out the tree crown reduces the wind resistance to the tree, and subsequently the risk of it falling.

Crown-reduction trims the tops of the crown branches. Unless absolutely necessary, it is best for the tree not to reduce the crown-height. Trimming the tops of the branches means that it’s not pruned back to a natural boundary and decay can easily and quickly spread inside the cut branches.

Pollarding refers to pruning the tree back down to the “knuckles” or to the point where the trunk first starts to branch out.

It is a method used in woodland management of encouraging lateral branches. It is mean to be a routine that begins during the early years of the tree and is maintained throughout its lifecycle. Trying to pollard an older tree can result in its death.