Winter Pruning Tips

Winter is a great time to get a little exercise, reduce holiday stress and reconnect with your garden. By taking a careful look around you can get a head start on spring by doing a little nipping here and there on trees and shrubs that may not be overgrown yet but soon might be. As cliché as it is, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

However, we don't recommend revving up the chain saw or power pruners. The jobs most gardeners should be tackling on their own require only hand tools like pruners, loppers or hand saws. When using tools like these, remember to practice safe habits by working with a helper, knowing your limitations, and taking your time when attempting any of the following pruning techniques. If you think a job is too big for you, it probably is, so call a nursery professional here at Estabrook's to talk you through it or recommend professional tree and shrub pruning help.

  • Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) - Prune out or reduce the length of any long shoots from the previous season to give the plant a more dense and symmetrical shape. Remember that less is more. Try not to prune or reduce more than a third of last year's new growth, as winter injury to the plant can occur.
  • Spruce and Fir (Picea and Abies spp.) - Like hemlock, prune out or reduce the length of any long shoots from the previous season to give the plant a more dense and symmetrical shape. Do not cut the central or topmost leader of the plant; this will result in a "medusa" headed plant susceptible to breakage.
  • Fruiting or Crabapples (Malus spp.) - Remove any crossing branches and "sucker growth", which is growth that is smoother and more rapid growing than the bulk of the tree. Be careful when removing growth that is more than a season old though, since this will reduce flowering (sucker growth does not carry flower buds). Do not remove more than three or four limbs that are thicker than your thumb in one season.
  • Spiraea japonica and bumalda (i.e. 'Anthony Waterer', 'Gold Flame', 'Gold Mound', 'Little Princess' or 'Shiboriana') - These spirea can be sheared in half or if the amount of snow we have allows it, as low as you can! These plants will jump right up again in spring and look full and lush again. If you're unsure of the type of spirea you have, give our staff a call or refer to our web site.
  • Red twig dogwood (Cornus spp.) - Prune out any gray or exceedingly tall growth. These plants need a good rejuvenation pruning every few years to keep the twigs nice and bright. If you are concerned about providing fruit for the birds, only remove the old gray growth. Removing this coming season's blooming wood will reduce the fruit.