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When is the best time to prune trees?

Updated: Apr 6, 2023

What is pruning?

Pruning is an important part of tree care that involves removing dead, diseased, or overgrown branches from a tree. Proper pruning can improve the health and appearance of a tree, while poor pruning techniques can cause damage and even lead to the death of the tree. One of the most important factors to consider when pruning a tree is the timing.

The best time to prune trees can vary depending on the type of tree and your location. However, in general, the best time to prune most trees is during their dormant season, which is typically in the late winter or early spring before new growth begins.


The benefits of pruning in the dormant season:

Pruning trees during their dormant season (late winter or early spring) can offer several benefits:

  • Improved tree structure: During the dormant season, the lack of foliage makes it easier to see the structure of the tree. This makes it easier to identify and remove branches that are growing in awkward or unhealthy directions, which can help to promote better growth and shape.

  • Reduced Risk of Damage: Pruning during the dormant season can reduce the risk of damage to the tree. When a tree is pruned during the growing season, it can be more susceptible to damage from pruning cuts, as the tree is actively growing and the cuts can disrupt the flow of nutrients and water. Pruning during the dormant season, when the tree is not actively growing, can reduce this risk.

  • Encourages healthy growth: Pruning during the dormant season can stimulate new growth in the spring. When pruned correctly, it sends a signal for the tree to produce new growth and redirects the tree's energy and resources to the remaining branches, which can lead to stronger and healthier growth and improve the appearance of the tree.

  • Prevents disease and pests: By removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches during the dormant season, you can reduce the risk of disease and insect infestations. This is because pruning during the dormant season minimizes the wounds left behind, and the tree is better able to heal before new growth begins.

  • Better fruit production: For fruit trees, pruning during the dormant season can help to encourage more fruit production. This is because removing some of the older wood can promote the growth of new, fruit-bearing branches.

There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For example:


Pruning Flowering Trees

If you have flowering trees, such as cherry or magnolia trees, it's important to time your pruning carefully. These trees should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming, as pruning during the dormant season can remove the buds that will produce flowers in the spring.


Pruning Young Trees

Young trees should be pruned regularly to encourage strong, healthy growth. The best time to prune young trees is during the dormant season, as this can help shape the tree and promote proper branching.


Pruning Mature Trees

Mature trees should be pruned less frequently than young trees. The best time to prune mature trees is during the dormant season, as this can help remove dead or diseased branches and improve the structure of the tree.


By timing your pruning carefully, you can ensure that your trees are healthy and beautiful for years to come. If you're not sure when to prune your trees, consider hiring a professional tree surgeon to assess your trees and provide expert advice.


What Happens If You Prune Too Early?


Pruning too early can have negative effects on the health and appearance of the tree. Here's what happens if you prune too early :


  • Damage to New Growth: If you prune too early, you risk damaging new growth that has not yet had a chance to harden off. Pruning cuts can expose tender new growth to cold temperatures, wind, and other environmental factors, which can cause damage and even kill the new growth.

  • Reduced Growth: If you prune too early, you can reduce the growth of the tree. Pruning cuts can stimulate new growth, but if the tree is pruned too early, the new growth may be exposed to cold temperatures or other environmental factors that can slow its growth or kill it.

  • Increased Risk of Disease: If you prune too early, you can increase the risk of disease. Pruning cuts can create openings in the tree that are vulnerable to disease and pests. If the tree is pruned too early, the cuts may not have a chance to heal properly before the growing season, which can increase the risk of disease.

  • Reduced Flowering: If you prune too early, you can reduce the flowering of the tree. Some trees, such as cherry or magnolia trees, should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming. If these trees are pruned too early, the buds that will produce flowers in the spring may be removed.


What Happens If You Prune Too Late?


Pruning trees too late can also have negative consequences for the health and appearance of the tree. While the exact timing for pruning varies depending on the type of tree and your location, pruning too late in the growing season can result in the following issues:

  • Reduced growth: Pruning too late can reduce the amount of new growth the tree produces in the upcoming season. This is because pruning stimulates new growth, and if you prune too late, the tree may not have enough time to recover and produce new growth before the dormant season arrives again.

  • Increased risk of disease and pests: Late-season pruning can leave the tree vulnerable to diseases and pests. This is because pruning wounds take time to heal, and if the tree doesn't have enough time to heal before the growing season ends, it can be more susceptible to infection.

  • Damage to flowering and fruiting: If you prune too late, you may remove flower buds or fruiting branches, which can impact the tree's ability to produce fruit or flowers in the upcoming season.

  • Deformed growth: Late-season pruning can result in deformed growth if the tree is pruned while it's actively growing. This can occur because the tree will try to compensate for the lost growth by producing new branches, which can lead to a lopsided or uneven appearance.

In general, it's best to prune trees during their dormant season, or in the early spring before new growth begins. However, if you need to prune during the growing season, it's important to do so early enough that the tree has time to recover before the dormant season arrives. If you're unsure about the best time to prune a particular tree, consult with a professional arborist or horticulturist in your area.


Although the best time to prune a tree depends on the species and the type of pruning you are planning to do. However, we have put some rule of thumb guidelines together below and as we build our Tree ID section of the website, we will give more species-specific guidelines there.


A tree shown half in Spring and half Summer
Branch structure is easier to judge when the tree is dormant

When to prune Deciduous trees:

These are trees that lose their leaves in Autumn, such as Oaks, Maples and Beeches. You generally want to avoid taking leaves from the tree and so the best time to prune deciduous trees is while they are dormant, from late Autumn into Winter. During this time, the tree is not actively growing and so is less susceptible to stress, you can also see the overall branch structure and shape of the tree more clearly and disease causing organisms are not as active. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as Birch trees that get ready for growth early (although this can't be seen) and so if you prune too late into Winter, the tree will lose water from the open wound and take time to re-seal, meaning a lot of hydration is lost.


Best time to cut Conifers UK:

Conifers don't often need pruning as they tend to maintain their shape quite well (a heavy prune can actually prove detrimental to this). However, if you have a Conifer tree that does need pruning, generally speaking, the best time to prune a Conifer tree is Spring or Summer. However, it is important to be mindful of the growth habit of the tree. Some conifers, such as pines and spruces, produce new growth from the tips of their branches, so pruning the tips can stimulate new growth. Other conifers, such as junipers, produce new growth from the base of the tree, so pruning the base can stimulate new growth. Always prune within the green needle boundary as brown needles never grow back green. We often get enquiries to top conifer trees, but this is not a recommended pruning technique, you can read more on this topic here.


When to prune Fruit trees UK:

These trees can be pruned while they are dormant or while they are in bloom, the best timing depends on what you are trying to achieve (Winter pruning encourages growth, Summer pruning slows it down). If new growth doesn't concern you, then generally it is best to prune fruit trees while they are dormant (usually between November and early March) to reduce the risk of spreading diseases. We would recommend late Winter, as the wounds will heal faster with the arrival of Spring (promoting new growth).


When to prune flowering trees:

These trees can be pruned while they are dormant or while they are in bloom, depending on the type of tree and the purpose of the pruning. For example, if you are pruning to remove dead or damaged branches, it is best to do this while the tree is dormant. If you are pruning to shape the tree or to promote flowering, it is generally best to do this while the tree is in bloom.


Guide to best time of year to cut down trees - by species:


Tree Type

Late Winter / Early Spring

Late Spring / Early Summer

Late Summer / Autumn

Late Autumn / Winter

Oak tree

X

X

Apple tree

X

Lime tree

X

Birch tree

X

Maple trees

X

Junipers, Yews

X

X

Pine tree

X

Spruce

X

X

Firs, Douglas Fir

X

X

Cedar tree

X

X

Willow

X

It is always important to use proper pruning techniques to ensure the health and vitality of your tree. Depending on the size of the tree in question, your pruning skills and you desire to do it, it might be a good idea to hire a certified arborist to do the job. Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your tree.



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