The Best Month to Prune Your Tree

Picture of a tree flowering in the Spring time

Being an Arborist, I’m pruning trees all year round. I’ve often wondered if there is the best month to prune a tree. I have since done some research, and this is what I’ve found.

Tree pruning should take place in the early spring months to maximize growth and wound healing. If limited growth is required, tree pruning can be done throughout the summer months. However, diseased or dangerous limbs need to be pruned throughout the year to prevent hazards.

These recommendations can be applied as a general rule of thumb. However, there are exceptions to the rule which should be considered when pruning your tree. Below I will go into more detail, and I have also included a table for easy reference.

The Best Months to Prune a Tree Explained

As stated above, generally, you want to prune your tree in the early spring months. Early Spring is such a good time to prune a tree due to the growth spurt trees get at that time of year. This growth spurt will promote excellent wound healing that will minimize the risk of disease. Pruning trees can also accelerate growth. Lateral shoot growth is promoted at the cut site, so this, combined with the Spring boost, will maximize your trees’ growth.

For example, late February to early March if you are in the Northern Hemisphere (eg America, Europe or UK), or late August to early September if you are in the Southern Hemisphere (eg Australia).

I know some of you may be wanting the opposite, a slow-growing tree that doesn’t get out of control. To slow the growth of your tree, you should be pruning in the Summer months. Just be careful; pruning in hotter months can be very stressful to a tree, affecting wound healing. So while new growth after a Summer prune will be significantly slower, try to prune as minimally as possible, so your tree stays healthy.

Specifically, this may be best in June to August if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and December to February if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

Diseased limbs may need to be removed immediately. Trees generally don’t recover from a disease once infected. Waiting until Spring may not be ideal in this instance, so once you notice a diseased limb, you should remove it as soon as possible to give your tree a fighting chance. Diseased trees can also be under stress, affecting their recovery, so it’s vital to ensure proper cutting techniques are used to help with wound healing.

A dangerous limb is another instance where you will need to prune your tree straight away. It’s not worth waiting around for an ideal time. If a limb’s structural integrity is compromised, there’s no telling when it will finally give out. Falling limbs can cause severe harm or even death, so it’s best to remove these limbs as soon as possible to minimize this risk. Also, routine pruning can help promote good health and strengthen your tree, lowering limbs’ chances of becoming dangerous.

When to Prune Young Trees

Pruning a young tree is done during the same season as an established tree. Even if you have planted a young tree during Winter, you can still prune your tree in Spring; this will not damage your tree. However, a young tree is different from a sapling tree (from the seed to three years old).  It would be best if you never pruned a sapling.

Once your young tree is more established (> 3 years), you will want to prune your tree for two main reasons.

  1. To suit the shape of your yard
    You may want to shape your young tree for a more practical reason. There may be a fence close to your tree, other trees on either side, a pathway underneath, etc.
  2. For looks
    This is a perfect opportunity to begin shaping your tree to be more visually appealing. It will be a lot more challenging to achieve a well-shaped tree, the longer you wait to start.

It can take up to 5 years from planting a young tree to complete the process of shaping. If you plan on doing this, it will be best to prune your young tree every Spring for the first 3-5 years of its life.

When to Prune Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are another exception to the norm when pruning a tree. The reason we prune fruit trees is to improve the quality of the fruit

Once again, a sapling should not be pruned. However, a fruit tree should be pruned early on in its life to train them to grow to promote good fruit. There are two main factors in improving fruit quality.

  1. To create thick stems
    Thick stems are more robust and can withstand the weight of the fruit as it ripens.
  2. To spread the canopy
    A wide-open canopy has lots of space to allow light and air to reach each stem and each flower, increasing the quality of the fruit.

When you plant your fruit tree, you should begin pruning right away regardless of the month or season; this means if you plant your fruit tree one day, you should be pruning that same day. But remember, if the tree is still a sapling, it should not be pruned as this will stunt the tree’s growth.

After your tree’s first prune, it should be pruned every year from the first year to the third. These yearly trims should be done in early Spring, right before buds break out. This is when our shaping occurs to produce that beautiful spacious canopy.

After years one to three of pruning and shaping, your fruit tree will no longer need to be regularly pruned. You will only need to prune the tree if you want to keep the size down, or shape the tree differently, or if there are any dangerous, diseased or weak limbs (ie emergency pruning). To keep the size down, prune your tree during the Summer months, as you would any other tree. Again, shaping the tree is like any other tree, requiring a prune in early Spring. Any emergency pruning can be done as needed.

When to Prune for Better Flowering

Some people prune trees to increase the number of flowers to make them more visually appealing. Flowering trees are not necessarily fruit trees. If you are pruning for aesthetics, the timing is slightly different from that of a fruit tree. The other timing is because more flowers, although very pretty, will compete for the same sunlight and air and, therefore, produce lower quality fruit.

The best time to increase the number of flowers on a tree is when the flowers have started dropping, but before new growth begins. This is usually during late Spring. This will be late May if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and late November if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

Removing flower buds too early will result in a decrease of Springtime bloom. Earlier in Spring, or even in Winter, your tree will be preparing for its next Spring bloom, forming tiny buds that will soon become beautiful flowers. If we prune during this time, we may remove many of these flower buds and reduce the number of flowers that appear in Spring.

Even among flowering trees, there are variations to how a tree responds to your pruning. Some tree varieties will produce many more flower buds on the new growth. The following Spring bloom will have significantly more flowers than the previous year. Other types may take a few seasons before you will see significant changes. Regardless of the variety, pruning to improve your tree’s flowering is done at the same time.

Table

Here is a quick table for easy referencing

OUTCOME:WHEN TO PRUNE:
Optimal GrowthEarly Spring
Slower GrowthSummer Months
Young TreesEarly Spring
Better FloweringLate Spring
Diseased LimbsImmediately
Dangerous LimbsImmediately
Freshly Planted Fruit TreeImmediately
Fruit Tree Years 1-3Early Spring

Hopefully this will help you in your future pruning endeavours. Happy pruning!

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