Winter Pruning: It’s All About the Timing

Take a serious look out your windows at your back yard landscape. What do you see? Are the perennials all shriveled and black looking? Are some bushes falling over on top of others?

When you drive into your driveway, what does the front yard and entry-way look like? Is there dead and brown-looking foliage? Are there bushes trying to obscure your windows or push you off the front walkway or sidewalk?

If you imagine tackling all of this in one day, you may feel overwhelmed. However, nothing much is going to grow out there until around March and even then, just a few things will be pushing buds.

So, start with what you see when you drive in the driveway and tackle a section of that when you have a block of time. Then do the other half the next opportunity. When the front is completed, tackle the back yard. Do all of this pruning a section at a time until it is done. Lastly, take on all of those plants that may need attention that you don’t see out your windows. By the time that you do all of this, it will be March and you will have accomplished your tasks!

Here is how you can do this.

  • Cut back the perennials that are brown and ugly and leave about one inch of stem. I simply chop the foliage into two inch pieces and leave them lying on the ground, but you may want to haul them off to the recycle bin.
  • Prune and thin the late season shrubs like Hydrangea and Crape Myrtle.
  • Avoid early spring bloomers like Flowering Quince, Lilac, Forsythia and Daphne, as you will be cutting off their bloom buds, which you are looking forward to seeing! Wait to prune them until right after they bloom and then you will be fitting into their life cycle.
  • Remember to wait on roses till February around President’s Day. If the roses are tall right now and the wind is catching them, cut them back about a 1/3, but in general, roses need to be as dormant as possible for serious pruning.
  • Do not shear any of your plants unless they have tiny leaves and you want a hedge type of look. (Shears are like big scissors). Normally one will prune everything with hand clippers or loppers.
  • If you have big overgrown plants which need rejuvenating, this is the time of the year to do that. (Rejuvenating means cutting back hard with a saw or loppers, so that new growth can occur in the spring). Please note that:
  • If you do it now, you will be looking at the brown stumps till spring, so you may want to take care of this project in March.
  • If you find that you need to regularly cut a plant back this hard, it is probably not located in the right place and should be removed. A new plant or plants should be chosen to take its place, which would be more suitable and manageable.

Approaching your pruning in this fashion at the beginning of January about guarantees that it will all be done by March!

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