Dormant Pruning of Deciduous Trees


A question people often ask us is, when should we prune our trees?  Pruning can be done almost any time of the year, but dormant pruning is typically done late fall till early spring.  It is best done when the leaves are off of deciduous plants and/or growth has slowed to a crawl. Deciduous means to “fall off” as in “falling at maturity” in reference to trees and shrubs that seasonally shred leaves usually in autumn.

When deciding which plants to prune, a simple rule to remember is when do they bloom in the spring or summer.  Only summer blooming deciduous plants should be pruned in the dormant months.  Basic dormant season pruning can help improve the looks of the plants.  It can help maintain the forms and structures of the plants.  It will allow more light into the plant for better inner growth.

There are five steps to do basic dormant pruning.  The first starts with pruning out dead, diseased, dying or weak branches.  This helps to improve light penetration into the plant and air movement through it.

A second way is to raise the crown of trees by pruning out the lower branches.  This helps to provide clearance from buildings, vehicles and people.  Sometimes people get this mixed up with another type of pruning called topping out or top pruning.  Top pruning is the removal of the top of the tree, mainly from the main truck.  This method is not recommended of most arborists.

The third way is to thin out large branches that are near the top of the tree.  This is thinning out, not topping out.  This will help in crown reduction, thus reducing the height of the tree.

A fourth way to help out with dormant pruning is to remove fallen leaves underneath your trees.  There are two sides to composting these leaves.  Some say it is ok if they were disease free, and others say not to compost them if returning that compost to your yard, just in case they did have disease on them

The fifth way is start dormant pruning early in the life of your trees.  By starting early this helps to train your trees in the right way you desire.  Prune out dead and injured branches shortly after planting.  Early pruning often leads to a healthier and longer life of the tree.  Make sure not to prune the leader branch throughout the life of your trees.

In conclusion, start dormant pruning early in the life of your trees.  Text book from the library and/or the internet can help you get started.  If you have neglected or older trees, consult an arborist or experienced pruners before beginning your pruning.  Happy dormant pruning and may your trees be healthy.