Why you should prune trees in winter
Cold winters can be hard on plants and people, but the freezing temperatures that drive homeowners indoors is ideal for working in the landscape. Professional landscapers and arborists from New England down through Washington, D.C., list several advantages to scheduling landscape work this time of year.
First of all, the shape of many plants is visible when the foliage is gone. "I personally love to do ornamental pruning in the winter because I can see a plant's structure," says Tim Zastrow, arborist for A-rated Bartlett Tree Experts in Gaithersburg, Md. Zastrow adds that there are specific plants that benefit from winter pruning. "In New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, people grow lots of crape myrtle, and these are best pruned in February or March."
Although spring flowering plants such as rhododendrons, lilacs and viburnum should be pruned immediately after flowering, many others can be shaped from January on.
"There's a biological aspect to pruning trees in the winter," says Zach Shechtman, owner of the A-rated Shechtman Tree Care in Philadelphia. "Pruning live growth is best done in dormancy. You can safely remove it in the winter without negatively impacting the growing season."
There are other practical reasons for hiring an arborist in the wintertime. "The ground is often frozen so you can get the trucks closer to the trees," Shechtman says. "The lawn doesn't get as damaged by tires and falling debris."
Bartlett's arborists use winter for tree structure evaluations. By taking core samples from a tree, "we are able to assess if a tree is at significant risk of structural failure due to decay or other defects because I can see a plant's structure at that time," Zastrow says.
Both Zastrow and Shechtman agree there are financial reasons for winter scheduling as well. "Frequently, the prices are lower in the winter," Shechtman says. "Since we're not as busy, most tree people will offer reduced rates at this time of year."
But there may be regional differences when it comes to winter pricing, according to Mike Tartick, president of highly rated Al's Tree Service in Buffalo, N.Y. "Some companies may charge you more for work in the winter because it's much more difficult," Tartick says. "We're in a colder climate here and we tend to have more snow." Tartick adds that storm damage is a different story. "When we have storms, we're out cleaning up because it's a safety issue."
Although the snowfall may not be as constant in the mid-Atlantic states as it is in upstate New York, occasional heavy snowfalls demonstrate the effectiveness of preventive maintenance. "Whenever we get a bad winter storm, that's when we get calls from new customers," Zastrow says. "We don't hear from most of our regular customers, because we've taken care of their trees in advance of the season and they've followed our advice for preventing snow damage.
C.L. Fornari is a writer, garden consultant, professional speaker and radio host who is dedicated to creating beautiful landscapes and successful gardeners. She gardens on Cape Cod, blogs at WholeLifeGardening.com, and offers other garden articles at GardenLady.com.