Winter Pruning


Winter Pruning

The dormant months are a great time to get started…

February in the middle of Maryland, this year at least, is an exercise in extremes. Just as you feel ready to succumb to endless winter, the days start getting a little longer and you are rewarded with a few days of manageable temperatures. Take advantage of these days to get outside and reconnect with the world. I am always inspired by the tenacity of nature and the small seemingly miraculous dichotomies of late winter/early spring like bright red berries on an ice bound American holly or crocus and hellebores blooming through a mound of soft snow. It’s a strong reminder that February is the time to get back to work in the garden. Winter pruning is a good place to start.

The best thing to remember about pruning is this: nature finds a way. As a good steward we have only the best intentions for our little plots of nature and can tend to succumb to a type of paralysis when it comes to shaping and grooming our trees and shrubs. As long as you limit the pruning to no more than 1/3 of the plant, even a bad pruning job will grow back. Pruning is a necessity in maximizing the health of your plants, the productivity of certain fruiting pants, and general safety. Pruning not only affects the appearance of your plant but can increase light and air flow for it and the plants around it.

Getting Started:

  • Clean and sharpen your gardening shears and tools. Many of the farmer’s markets here in Montgomery County has a knife sharpening vendor that can do this for you! Sharp shears mean better healthier cuts.

  • Read up on when your plants flower and fruit. Some plants bloom and fruit on new growth and benefit greatly from winter pruning while some only bloom on growth from the previous year and like to be pruned after they have bloomed. If you need help with more information on your plants, visit the University of Maryland Extension Office at

In general, it is safe to prune most trees and shrubs during the dormant months of late winter and will result in better growth during the growing season and nice summer blooms. A good rule of thumb is that if it blooms in the spring, it is best to prune in the summer. It is also important to note that some trees like the maple, dogwoods, and birch will “bleed” more sap if pruned in winter. It is best to wait and prune these trees during the summer.

If you see buds like on the grape and Japanes spindle below, it’s a good indication that you should wait to prune them.

Take your time and do your research. This is a great exercise in getting to know your garden and becoming a better partner is its successes. It is also a great time to start getting back outside, getting more sunshine and fresh air, and finding more of a balance in life.

Bonus:bring some greenery inside after you’ve pruned like this Sciadopitys verticillata, or Japanese umbrella-pine. A good cutting will last for weeks in water!