I love seeing a beautiful blanket of snow covering my garden. The native grasses are whipping in the wind and the berries on a few shrubs are keeping the birds happy.
The rest of the shrubs and trees are quiet and bare, making this a good time to get them in shape for spring, when leaves will burst from their branches. Winter pruning will get your trees closer to their proper structure and will cut down on future defects or the need for cabling or bracing. So get those pruners cleaned and sharpened this afternoon - we have some work to do!
The shape of a tree helps it withstand just about anything Mother Nature can dish out. Keeping your trees pruned will actually make them stronger. They will bounce back quickly when they are pruned at a young age.
Heavy snow and ice can put pressure on all the weak spots of trees and shrubs. Trees that are pruned have a lower failure potential and lower liability risk. That means prune out the dead weight before it breaks under pressure. High winds and ice can easily snap weak limbs. If you keep them pruned and strong, they will be able to hold that extra weight.
Before you cut your tree down to the ground, you need a plan. If your 10-year-old tree has never been touched by a sharp object, it might need a lot of work. Chopping it down by more than one-third its size can weaken the root system to the point where it may not recover.
Cut out any branches that cross first. Crossing branches just crowd the tree and rub each other, causing more problems down the road. Once those are gone, you should see more light in the center of your tree. Look for any broken or diseased limbs. Take those out also.
Now stand way back and look at the tree's overall structure. Sometimes a tree really starts to take off on one side and needs to be reshaped. Trees such as evergreens usually grow with one strong leader on top. If your tree has grown with two, it is creating a weak "V" shape between them. Cut out the weakest leader while the tree is young. Many of those weak crooks in the tree are on the ground today.
Don't just cut the limb anywhere - the tree tells you where it should be cut. Look for a bump on the limb where it meets the trunk. This is the branch bark collar. Don't cut into it or it will leave a huge wound. Cut just behind it. The tree packs a lot of growth hormones in that spot, and is just waiting for the signal to start covering that wound over and sending the energy spent on that limb to another part of the tree. Always make a diagonal cut without leaving a big stump.
Cut the diseased and crossing branches in the center of the tree. If you notice two buds at the top of your tree, they are both trying to be the leader. You only need one leader, so prune out the smaller one. If they are about the same size, leave the one that is straighter to give your tree its strongest shape.
Terminal buds are at the end of the branch. This is where most of the growth will happen in the spring. It also is where the buds will soften when the weather warms up and they start to break open. If they soften before temperatures go back down into the deep-freeze, they could die. That damage will result in fewer blooms and fruit this spring.
Now it's time to get you in shape! Its just too bad we can't shave off 20 or 30 pounds with a quick pruning here or there, right? Take time to enjoy the shapes in nature by taking a 20 to 30-minute walk at least three times a week and like your trees, you'll be in good shape by spring!
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at: