Dormant trees prime for pruning as colder weather approaches

CHAMPAIGN—Other than raking up falling leaves, colder weather usually means the season for yard maintenance is over. But don’t worry, for those avid yard workers, there is still work that can be done. This time of year is actually a good time to prune your trees—except for those that flower in the spring.

Trees are dormant in the winter, making pruning easier because you can better see a tree’s structure when no leaves are on the branches. “Proper pruning can be an important part of tree health maintenance,” said Jim Skiera, executive director of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). “Just be aware that each tree is different, and pruning at the wrong time or the wrong way can injure a tree or make it susceptible to disease.”

Pruning helps keep surrounding areas safe for people and objects by removing dead or broken branches. But too much pruning can create more problems than it solves, Skiera added, advising homeowners to prune annually and lightly instead of all at once. When in doubt, consult a local ISA Certified Arborist for advice.

Deciding what and where to prune involves an understanding of basic tree biology, sharp tools, and an artful eye. Where you make the cut is as important as knowing what to remove. There are a few simple principles to understand before you prune:

Always have a purpose in mind before you cut. Removing dead or diseased wood, providing clearance, or improving structure are most common;

Proper technique is essential. Poor pruning technique can cause long-term damage;

Learn how to make proper cuts. Small cuts do less damage to the tree than large cuts. Unlike people, tree wounds do not heal, they close. Smaller cuts close quicker;

Make cuts just outside the branch collar for quick wound closure;

Avoid leaving stubs; and

Keep tools sharp and clean.

Remember that pruning large trees can be dangerous. If pruning your tree cannot be done without using power equipment or leaving the ground, then it should be left to a professional arborist. You can find more tips about how to prune trees at

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), headquartered in Champaign, is a nonprofit organization supporting tree care research and education around the world. As part of ISA’s dedication to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees, it offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the industry. For more information, and to find a local ISA Certified Arborist, visit

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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