When Is the Best Time to Prune Trees?

On paper, the late fall and early spring don’t seem to have much in common. But when it comes to tree pruning, they do. Late fall and early spring are the best time of year to prune trees — and we’ll explain why in this blog post.

Why It’s Best to Prune Trees in Late Fall & Early Spring

It’s a pattern that trees follow every year. As cooler temperatures roll in and winter nears, trees go dormant, or essentially “fall asleep,” so they can sustain themselves amid the season’s harsh conditions, from the snowfall and ice to the lack of sunlight. Then, as temperatures rise and the days become longer, trees receive the signal to “wake up” and the growing season commences.

Late fall and early spring are right on the cusp of when trees enter their dormant season. At this point, it’s easier to see the structure of trees, as they have already shed their leaves to conserve energy throughout the winter. This makes it easier to spot branches that should be removed based on their damaged or diseased appearance. Increased visibility of the tree structure also makes it easier to make proper cuts outside the branch collar and in the direction of growth.

Outside of the visibility factor, pruning trees in the late fall or early spring also makes them less susceptible to stress. When pruning occurs, a tree’s natural reaction is to stimulate new growth and close the wound from the cut that was made. Pruning in the dormant season, when a tree is already at rest, gives the wound the time it needs to heal and — as an added benefit — delivers more robust growth when the growing season arrives.

The last layer to this pruning puzzle is the fact that when trees are pruned while dormant, they are less likely to attract the attention of disease-carrying insects. When cuts are made to trees, insects (like beetles, for instance) tend to be attracted to the scents that emerge from them — and these beetles could be carrying with them oak wilt spores to otherwise healthy trees. In the dormant season for trees, many of these same insects are also dormant or inactive, so there is less cause for concern.

Pair the Proper Timing with the Proper Techniques

While we’ve shared some insights into the best time to prune trees, there’s also a conversation that needs to be had around the right techniques to use. Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts:

  • Do use sharp pruning tools so you can make cleaner cuts that heal fast
  • Don’t cut too close to the branch collar of the tree, as it can cause the trunk to weaken and decay
  • Don’t trim more than 25% of a tree’s foliage, as this can harm its overall health
  • Do use the three-cut method to prevent tearing bark off the tree and damaging it
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to an industry professional like Safari Tree with questions!