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Tree Talk - Metropolitan Forestry Services

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January 23, 2024

Top 3 Reasons Why Winter is the Best Time to Prune Trees

It's best to prune trees in St. Louis in the winter.

One of the most asked questions we get throughout the year is, “When is the best time to prune trees”? In general, tree pruning can be done in the winter. Here are the top three reasons to prune your trees during the colder months.

1. Prune Trees in Winter to Decrease Hazards

Removing dead, weak, or damaged tree branches can reduce the chance of breakage dangers and storm damage. Many trees are more prone to winter damage from ice and snow. These trees should be pruned in the fall and early winter to prevent ice build-up and potential breakage problems. These include:

    • Trees that have been topped, lion-tailed, or have had other bad tree work done in the past
    • Trees with included bark and poor branching structure
    • Bradford pear, evergreen, and silver maple trees

2. Winter Pruning Improves Tree Health and Structure

Without leaves on the trees, it is easier to see the tree’s structure and assess which branches need to be pruned. This can be especially important for training young trees, which benefit from professional tree trimming ahead of long-term growth. There are two main tree trimming methods to achieve these results:

    • Crown reduction pruning – reducing the height and width of the tree can take weight off the ends of the branches. This method can remove heavy or overextended tree branches as well as other significant defects.
    • Structural pruning – pruning younger trees can correct structural flaws so they don’t become critical defects with hazardous consequences. An experienced Arborist can judicially select tree pruning cuts for the best results.

3. Minimize Pests and Diseases with Winter Tree Pruning

Insects and disease-causing pathogens are either dormant or less active in the winter. Pruning during this time reduces the risk of introducing pests that could lead to serious issues. This is especially crucial for oaks and elms, as they are particularly prone to diseases like oak wilt, Dutch elm disease, and bacterial leaf scorch. Since these diseases are spread to new trees via small insects which are attracted to fresh cuts on trees, pruning the trees while the insects are either dormant or less active minimizes disease transmission. Trimming in the winter allows time for the pruning cuts to compartmentalize and become less attractive to these insects when they emerge in the spring.

Exceptions to Pruning Trees in Winter

  1. As a general rule, spring-flowering trees and shrubs should not be pruned in the winter; doing so would remove flower buds.  These plants include crabapples, cherries, magnolias, dogwoods, redbuds, and azaleas, among others.  We recommend carefully pruning these after their blooms fade and before they fully leaf out.
  2. If oak, elm, or ash trees need to be pruned in the spring or summer due to hazardous conditions or storm damage, steps can be taken to minimize the risk of disease transmission and pest infestation.  Proper cuts on completely dead limbs do not expose living tissue, and pruning spray can make cuts on living wood less palatable to the insects (however, pruning spray does not correct bad cuts, prevent decay, or completely eliminate the risk of disease).

Check with a Certified Arborist from Metropolitan Forestry for Pruning Help

Before pruning any tree, consult with one of Metropolitan Forestry’s Certified Arborists to determine the most appropriate timing for your specific tree species and circumstances. Regular maintenance pruning can prevent major costs of storm damage and reduce hazards to your family and property. Contact us for an inspection of your trees – we can provide recommendations on how to keep them beautiful and healthy.

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Our goal is to provide you with the best possible service. If you are not satisfied with any treatment or completed job, we will resolve the situation to your satisfaction. We want to do our utmost to ensure your trees and shrubs are always 'green and growing'.