Prune trees and shrubs during the dormant period

Prune trees and shrubs during the dormant period

Submitted by Larry Krawczyk, president of Lindenwood Lawn and Landscape Service

The best time to prune trees and shrubs is during the dormant period of the plant. Purchase quality pruning tools and equipment, as this will make the job easier and produce more desirable results. Have a purpose in mind when pruning.

Wondering when’s the best time to prune your plants? Here are some quick tips.


The dormant period for trees is from November to March. Keep in mind that some trees, such as maple and ash, will bleed sap when pruned. The exception is the honey locust. These trees can be pruned while in the leaf stage.

Newly planted trees need to be pruned to encourage a desirable shape for the first few years of growth. It’s suggested to prune main, horizontal branches to a 7-foot height to allow people to walk or mow under them.

It’s also a great time to prune crabapples. Most people are unaware that crabapple trees are grafted on a wild rootstock at their base to provide the desirable tree section above ground. This wild rootstock constantly wants to take over above ground and needs to be pruned back to ground level periodically.


Some shrubs can be pruned twice a season, as well as during the dormant period. Most major pruning should be done before the first week of July so the new growth has time to harden off before winter weather.

Primary stem shrubs, including burning bush, juddi viburnum and rhododendron, should not be pruned to ground level. Shape them while they are dormant so you can see dead stems and misshaped branches.

For non-blooming varieties of hedge plants, such as cotoneaster, yews and alpine currant, prune twice a season between June and early July and after mid-September.

Flowering shrubs, like lilacs, forsythia, spirea varieties and viburnum, should be pruned within two weeks after blooming has completed. Only prune these once a season.

When pruning, follow the natural shape of the plant. This will allow similar plants to grow together. Always prune newly-installed shrubs to form desirable shapes.

What about neglected, overgrown shrubs?

For spirea, potentilla and cotoneaster, remove all stems to within 12-inches of soil surface during the dormant period. Fertilize in May to encourage new growth.

During dormant period of lilac, viburnum, weigela, forsythia and honeysuckle, remove all stems to ground level for rejuvenation.

Evergreens usually need pruned only once a season – before July 4. Only expect growth on the outside of the plant, as the inside is usually unable to produce new stems. Branches can be limbed up, but do not expect any regrowth once branch is removed.

Lindenwood Lawn and Landscape Services is located in Oak Creek, Wis. Krawczyk has more than 30 years of formal education and experience in the landscape maintenance industry.

As of July 8, 2011, this service provider was highly rated on Angie’s List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie’s List.