The practice of dormant pruning is just what the name implies: it’s the pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs while they are still dormant in the winter. While winter pruning is recognized as one of the most effective ways to trim your trees and shrubs and keep them healthy year-round, we’ve put together a dormant pruning guide so you can get the job done right and see the best results.
The Dormant Pruning Tools You’ll Need
✓ Thick work gloves are a must to protect hands from blades and thorns
✓ Pruners are essential for the thinnest branches (they will cut stems of up to a half-inch)
✓ Loppers are useful for branches ranging from a half-inch to an inch or more
✓ A sharp pruning saw is needed for the thickest branches and for precision cuts to leave branch collars
The Proper Dormant Pruning Process
First, remove any branches that are obviously broken, diseased or dead. To test for vitality, scrape the bark with a knife. If the underlying layer is green, the branch is alive.
Look for branches that are rubbing against each other or crossing and soon will be touching. Determine which of the two serves the tree better, and remove the other.
If one branch is located immediately above another, take out one of them. Uncorrected, the upper branch will shade out the other and make it weak.
Cut side branches that are growing toward the center of the tree. In deciding what to remove, remember that branches with narrow crotch angles are structurally weaker than those with a wider junction.
How to Handle Pruning Multi-Stemmed Varieties
Generally speaking, the main trunk of a tree should end in a central leader. But not all trees have or should have central leaders. Multi-stemmed or low-branched, vase-shaped trees such as the popular crape myrtle variety Natchez are meant to have a number of trunks.
However, these trees grow large, dense and thick and benefit greatly from formative pruning. Guided by the same principles as highlighted above, you want a tree that forms an asymmetric silhouette and develops its own distinct character.
For your convenience, download our PDF version of this dormant pruning guide — with visuals included to further assist you.