Maintenance and Repairs

January 13, 2022 Published by Golden Horseshoe Chapter - By TJ Umb

The Benefits of Winter Pruning & Tree Removal

From the Volume 11, Winter 2022 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine

When it comes to getting work done, most people think that spring or summer is the optimal time for tree management. It’s often the opposite. Here are the benefits of winter tree pruning and tree removal.

As temperatures drop and most people begin to think about indoor projects, many arborists continue to work pruning and removing trees. It’s a common misconception that tree maintenance is not done during the winter months, or that tree care companies don’t operate during this time of the year.

The reality is that winter is a good time for pruning and tree removal services. During winter, trees and shrubs enter a state called dormancy. Leaves fall off deciduous plants and trees take a “rest” until warmer spring temperatures prod them into putting on a new flush of growth. There are many benefits to winter tree work.

Less stressful for trees

Trees go dormant during the winter months, making it the perfect time to prune. During the winter trees store energy reserves in their roots. When trees begin to grow in the spring this energy is used to seal wounds more quickly and support vigorous spring growth that will obscure the pruning cuts. Trees that tend to bleed a lot of sap – like maples, birch, and aspen – won’t bleed when pruned in winter. Plus, research shows that pruning before buds break in spring leads to “optimum wound closure”, letting trees seal from pruning cuts before warmer weather brings out destructive insects and pathogens.

Prevent the spread of pests and diseases

It is not only trees that go dormant in the winter. During winter, bacteria, fungi, parasites, and insects that cause and/or spread disease are either dead or dormant, so diseases are less likely to be transmitted by pruning. Examples such as Dutch elm disease, oak wilt, cedar hawthorn rust and fire blight that are active and spread easily during the spring and summer growing seasons become less of a concern if pruning during the winter.

Less damage to property, enhanced safety

In Ontario, the ground freezes in the winter, which means that when heavy equipment is required for tasks such as a tree removal, there is less of an impact on your landscape. Your lawn and other plants are also dormant, so crews can work in these areas without the concern of damaging turf, gardens, or the root zones of neighbouring trees.

The winters here can get very windy and snowy, and winter storms and heavy snow can cause damage. Damaged, dead, or dying trees can become even more hazardous in winter, particularly when we get significant amounts of ice or snow. Heavy snow or ice on a weak branch can cause it to come crashing down on whatever is below it. Removing dead or damaged branches keeps you and your property safe and can also rejuvenate the tree by removing dead and diseased wood, making the entire tree healthier and safer.

Easier to assess tree structure

In the winter months it can be beneficial for an arborist to assess your trees to look for anything that may not be completely visible under the summer foliage. This can include dead, dying, and diseased branches, weak or vulnerable branch unions, cracks and splits, or other structural defects that may be blocked by foliage. Corrections including structural pruning, cabling and bracing can effectively be done in the winter months.

Less dramatic changes

Winter pruning helps shape your trees to grow in the manner best for your property, whether that be to avoid interfering with structures or walkways or to promote or constrain growth. Late winter is a great time to prune, contain or rejuvenate overgrown shrubs and trees as they’ll be able to recover quickly in spring with new growth. Pruning in the winter when the tree is dormant also has less of an impact on the visual appearance of your property. Many changes are less noticeable come springtime.

Fewer disruptions of a tree’s natural functions

During the colder months, trees store most of their carbohydrates and nutrients in the roots. Winter trimming has far less impact on the tree’s energy supply.

What about spring and summer pruning?

While winter is a great time to prune, that doesn’t mean that pruning during spring and summer isn’t good for your trees. It simply offers different benefits and is done for different reasons, such as:

  • Pruning in the winter for spring-flowering plants and trees will remove flower buds, so if you’d like to see blooms on your shrubs or trees, delay pruning until after they have bloomed.
  • Taking care of deadwood that isn’t easy to identify in winter (on some tree species it’s hard to tell whether a branch is dead when the tree is dormant)
  • Removing damaged or diseased branches
  • Improving the overall look of the tree once it’s leafed out
  • Opening the tree to increase air circulation or allow more sunlight into the interior
  • Raising the canopy to improve your view
  • Pruning shrubs and trees that have grown too large or are getting in the way
  • Many of these pruning activities are done during the growing season because the issues often are not obvious until the trees have leafed out.

Speak to an arborist about a pruning plan based on the current needs of your property. Over the long term, proper pruning can create a safer property and help promote the health of your trees.

TJ Umb – ISA Certified Arborist
Tree Management Program Coordinator
Maple Hill Tree Services


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