Pruning is an essential part of plant care, but you must take care to prune at the correct time of year. Some plants require winter pruning when they’re dormant.
Winter pruning preps your plants to focus on growing flowers and fruit when they emerge in the spring. It also maintains a healthy shape and reduces the risk of diseases taking over.
Let’s take a look at which plants should be pruned in the winter and how to do it right.
Why Should You Prune in the Winter
Most people think of pruning as either a fall or spring task, but winter pruning has its place.
If you live in a temperate region, chances are the plants go dormant throughout the winter months. Active growth stops, and your plants rest and hunker down for a few months.
That’s why the winter and very early spring tend to be the best times for pruning for some plants, especially if you want to adjust the shape.
You should prune hard in the winter before any new growth starts. When your plant comes out of dormancy, it will devote all of its energy towards producing new, healthy growth as the temperatures rise.
The other benefit of winter pruning is simple – the leaves are gone in the winter. It makes it much easier to see what you’re doing and not miss branches that need to be pruned.
8 Best Plants for Winter Pruning
As we mentioned, not all plants need to be pruned in the winter. Here are a few to put on your to-do list in the following winter months.
The best time to prune grapevines is in December or January. Cut the vines back to the main arm that you trained to grow along the support system. It’s vital to only prune grapevines in the winter when they’re dormant because the wounds will bleed.
2. Autumn-Fruiting Raspberries
It’s important to ensure you only prune autumn-bearing raspberries, not spring-bearing ones, in the winter. You can cut the canes down to a few inches above the ground.
February is the ideal month for raspberry pruning. It helps to encourage your plant to send shoots up that will bear fruit in the fall.
Fig trees are best pruned in December or January when the trees are deep in their dormancy. If you prune outside of this time, the wounds bleed.
When you prune a fig tree, make sure you leave behind evenly spaced, straight branches. Then, remove any branches that go outside of the shape you desire.
These plants are vigorous climbers, so you typically need to prune them twice per year. It’s best to prune them in December and June or July. Pruning twice promotes flowering.
During your winter pruning of wisteria, prune all of the side-shoots back to the third or fourth bud. When you prune in the summer, cut back all of the shoots to several inches.
Certain types of roses can be pruned in the winter, such as hybrid teas and shrub roses, but make sure you aren’t drastically pruning rambling roses in the winter. It’s best to do that in late summer.
When you’re pruning roses in the winter, your goal is to cut back the thin, weak stems, leaving behind about six thick, healthy canes. Remove any suckers, as well.
Aim to prune out inward-growing branches so the new growth will face out. Leave the rose bush no more than 18-48 inches tall depending on the variety.
6. Apple & Pear Trees
The best time to prune apple and pear trees is from November to mid-March. Your goal is to encourage fruiting while maintaining the classic wine-glass shape of your tree. You should cut off any shoots at the base of the tree, as well as dead, diseased, or crossing branches.
7. Deciduous Shrubs
If you have deciduous shrubs on your property, the best time to prune them is in the winter. You should remove any damaged or diseased wood, as well as any branches that cross, because this rubbing could injure the shrub.
Winter pruning is preferred for deciduous trees and shrubs because, with all of the leaves gone, you can see what you’re doing. Also, since the sap in the shrubs and trees isn’t as active, they’re less likely to bleed.
8. Multiple Fruit Bushes
If you have blackcurrants, blueberries, gooseberries, or redcurrants growing on your property, those should be pruned in the winter.
Your goal with your winter pruning of fruit bushes is to remove old wood and create the best shape. Doing so leaves behind the healthy, young branches to produce large harvests each year.
7 Winter Pruning Tips
So now that you know which plants to prune in the winter, there are a few things you need to know to get the job done right.
1. Prune at the Right Time
Plan to prune on a mild, dry day when it hasn’t rained or snowed recently. A dry day prevents waterborne plant diseases from spreading. It also prevents damage from cold temperatures.
You don’t want to prune too early in the winter because the incisions dry if the temperatures dip down too low after pruning.
The Best Time to Prune Flowering Shrubs
You can prune shrubs in the winter to help them form flowers on the new wood, which is the growth that appears in the spring. Some flowering shrubs you should in the prune in the winter include:
- Butterfly Bush
The Best Time to Prune Trees
If you have any evergreen shrubs or trees, they can be pruned in the late winter or early spring. Shade trees, such as oak trees, need to be trimmed in the late winter or early spring.
2. Remove Dead & Diseased Branches
The first thing you should do is prune out the dead and diseased branches, especially if they’ve been damaged by the snow and ice.
Pay close attention to your trees and shrubs when looking for diseased and damaged branches. Apple trees need any branches infected with canker to be removed, and magnolia trees often have dead branches due to verticillium wilt.
3. Always Prune Crossing Branches
Crossing or rubbing branches are not good for your plant. Over time, as they rub and hit each other, it can cause wounds to develop on the branches. Wounds are problematic because it gives pests and diseases a vulnerable place to attack your plant.
4. Prune for Air Circulation
Lack of air circulation throughout your plants is one of the leading causes of fungal diseases.
You can increase the airflow around your plants by removing overgrown and smaller branches at the crown of the tree. Another option is to take off the lower branches on evergreen shrubs.
5. Prune to the Buds
The best place to cut the branches is at the node, which is where a branch or twig connects to another. If you have newer shrubs or trees, cutting back to the buds is important because it tells the plant to put its energy towards developing a strong roots system.
Don’t be shy about pruning. You can cut new fruit bushes back to only three branches!
6. Then Prune for Structure
To keep your shrubs and trees shaped appropriately, work on structural pruning. This involves removing crossing branches as mentioned before, but you can prune for aesthetics, which helps you keep your plants the desired size.
7. Clean The Tools
You never know when you’ll encounter a disease on a plant, so it’s vital for you to clean your tools after pruning.
Try using a homemade disinfecting solution after pruning. You can make a solution using rubbing alcohol or household bleach with water. Typically, you want a 10% solution. Use a rag to wipe down all of the blades and let them air dry.