by Carmia Schepmoes, Landscape Designer and Garden Care Manager
As the winter progresses and the ground remains frozen until the spring thaw, many North Jersey gardeners consider themselves off-duty. They stow away their gardening gloves and bury their rakes and other tools behind the snow shovels and wait for warmer weather.
But there is so much more these gardeners can do in the winter months to enhance their property while waiting for springs inevitable arrival. Winter pruning, also referred to as dormant pruning, is a great way to get outdoors and allow your trees and shrubs to reach their full potential in the coming growing season.
There are many advantages to bundling up and grabbing those pruners on a warmer winter day. Pruning during this time is less stressful for the plant and decreases the risk of diseases entering pruning wounds. The winter season is also a great time to prune because the plants have dropped their leaves and allow for a better view of the plant’s structure.
Start by removing dead, injured or diseased wood from the plant, and snip off any crossing branches from center of the plant to improve air circulation and discourage fungal diseases. Leaving a stub of dead wood will invite disease and insects, so make sure you cut right above a bud on small branches or flush to the trunk on larger trees.
With especially heavy branches, be careful that the weight doesn’t pull the branch over before you’re done cutting it and pull tree bark off with it. Always make a precautionary cut on the bottom of the branch to ensure a clean cut. By following these few simple rules, you will ensure that your plants remain healthy and produce a flush of new growth and flowers.
Additionally, it’s important to understand which plants can and cannot be pruned during the winter. A common mistake is to get snip happy in the winter only to find that you’ve cut off all the flower buds for the spring. Most spring flowering shrubs produce their buds in the summer and fall, and then remain dormant on the plant until spring comes, so be careful to watch out for them.
Plants that show any sign of infection, disease or have any dieback should be left alone since pruning could make matters worse. Conversely, certain tree varieties should only be pruned in the winter to avoid bacterial infections that are possible during summer pruning.
When spring finally arrives, the results of your judicious winter pruning will be evident in the health and beauty of your plants. So grab those pruners and give yourself and your property a well-deserved respite from the drudgery of the winter months.