Prevent your shrubs and trees from becoming diseased and dying due to untimely fall pruning. Knowing when to prune your plants, shrubs, and trees in the fall will help you keep them thriving.
toddsmariettatreeservices.com gathered the following information about the heightened risks of pruning activities performed during fall months.
The Risk of Early Fall Pruning
It is not advised to conduct ANY pruning activities in early fall. All pruning activities encourage new plant growth. When these activities occur in early fall (when the tree or plant is starting to go dormant), any new growth won’t have enough time to harden before the first frost and freezing temperatures set in. This tender new growth, damaged by freezing weather, can become a vector for infestations and disease.
Why Fall Pruning Is Discouraged
The dangers of early fall pruning include:
Disease – As the seasons change from summer to fall, rainfall is typically increased, creating a moist or wet environment that promotes the growth and spreading of disease-causing bacteria and fungi.
Infestation – Like disease infections, insect infestations are supported by a moist or wet environment. These conditions delay a tree or plant’s ability to heal pruning wounds.
Off-Season Growth – As mentioned, pruning encourages growth. Pruning a tree or plant before dormancy can result in tender growth that becomes a vector for disease and infestation (when damaged by freezing weather).
Tip: Put your pruning shears away for another couple of months and allow your trees and plants to go completely dormant. Once dormancy has settled in (after all the leaves have dropped), you can safely prune trees and shrubs.
Note: If you must perform fall pruning, wait for your tree, shrub, or plant to go completely dormant. This “fall” window of opportunity is generally between the Thanksgiving and New Year holidays. However, if you can wait, late winter (late February) pruning is far less risky.
Fall Pruning Exceptions
Some situations arise, demanding immediate pruning activities. While most of these apply to trees, large or overgrown shrubs may require similar attention. Be on the lookout for the following:
Overhanging or Dangerous Growth – When trees or large shrubs grow over a structure or lean in that direction, they can cause great concern. This is true, especially in regions prone to severe weather.
The solution to this predicament is to prune back the limbs or branches causing the concern or to remove the tree or shrub, eliminating the threat altogether.
Dead Limbs or Branches – For all plant life, dead wood represents an easy entryway for disease and insect infestation. In fact, dead limbs or branches may result from a disease or infestation and should be investigated.
This dead wood should be removed upon discovery, regardless of the season or circumstance.
Storm Damage – Severe weather events seemingly occurring more frequently and consequently causing sometimes catastrophic damages to trees, shrubs, and plants.
When you detect storm damage in your trees, shrubs, and plants, you should take immediate action to remove the damaged wood and prune back limbs that have snapped or broken off (eliminating rough or uneven surfaces). Handling storm-damaged trees is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Minor damages can be resolved, but for more extensive damages, hire a professional tree service to help you sort out what can be salvaged and what is a threat and needs removing.
Plants and Shrubs That Should Be Pruned in the Fall
While the overall intent of this publication is to discourage fall/autumn pruning, the following species of plants and shrubs benefit from fall pruning:
- Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)
- Bee Balm (Monarda)
- Bellflowers (Campanula)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Coneflowers (Rudbeckia)
- Columbine (Aquilegia)
- Daylily (Hemerocallis)
- Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
- Salvia (Salvia spp.)
Counter to the standard, these above plant species do require fall pruning. However, to be more informed, read when should I prune trees and discover best practices of tree pruning?
Generally speaking, plants hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9 will need fall pruning.
No shrub species require fall pruning:
Shrub pruning should be treated the same as tree pruning. Early fall pruning can severely damage your shrubs and should be avoided until the shrub has gone dormant for the season.
Tip: You can and should prune shrubs any time it becomes necessary (broken branches, dead or diseased wood, or removing growth that is obstructing a sidewalk or road).
Alternatives to Fall Pruning
Fortunately, there is no shortage of activities you can perform in place of pruning. Your landscape will benefit from the following:
Rake Leaves and Debris – Most fungi and bacteria overwinter (lie in wait) in fallen leaves and debris. Rake this material up regularly and dispose of it from your property. Avoid composting these leaves and material as you may be cultivating harmful plant/tree pathogens.
Mulch – Offer a protective layer of mulch to trees, shrubs, and gardens for the winter months. A new or refreshed three to four-inch layer of organic mulch will help regulate soil moisture and temperature.
Amend Your Soil – The fall season is also a good time to amend your landscape and garden soil with compost or fertilizer. A simple soil test can reveal which nutrients your soil is lacking.
Mark Your Trees – Instead of pruning, take a can of red or pink spray paint and mark the branches you’d like to remove at a more appropriate time. Branches to be marked may include:
- Branches obstructing free-flowing light and air through the canopy
- Crossover branches that rub and cause open wounds to form in the canopy (remove the smaller of the two)
- Low hanging branches that may interfere with foot traffic
- Branches or limbs growing vertically (water sprouts)
Tip: The more prep work you can get accomplished in the fall, the less work you’ll need to do, and the better your landscape’s conditions will be in the spring.
Pruning in the Fall
In this article, you discovered what to prune in the fall and when your trees, shrubs, and plants respond best to pruning activities.
Knowing when and what to prune in the fall season will help you maintain the health and vigor of your plants, shrubs, and trees.
Haphazardly pruning in fall months can lead to diseased or infested plants, shrubs, and trees, sometimes resulting in catastrophic damages when they die or are destroyed in severe weather events.