Winterizing Your Trees and Shrubs – Basic Care

My grandfather had several prize apple trees on his farm. As a child, I loved to climb them and play underneath them. In the fall, I’d pick the green apples, relishing their tart pucker in my mouth. My grandfather took meticulous care of the trees and they had a lovely, open form. One tree, though, at the edge of the orchard was less attractive. Its branches were gnarled and twisted and the tree leaned slightly to the right.

My grandfather explained that this tree was the first one he ever grew. As an inexperienced orchardist, he was hesitant to train and prune the tree for fear of hurting it. He didn’t realize that the tree needed continual guidance to become strong and productive.

Follow Correct Pruning Techniques

I have my own trees now and I’ve always remembered that old, gnarled apple tree. I prune my trees every spring and winterize them in the fall. This process takes only a few hours on a weekend, but guarantees strong trees, and even shrubs, for years to come. Here’s the process I use:

  • Remove damaged or dead branches anytime of the year, cutting them back to ¼-inch above an outward growing bud. If you leave the branches in place, they’ll rip from the tree, creating long, open wounds prone to infection. Worse, the branches may fall, causing property damage or injury.
  • Stake young trees if you live in an area with high winds. Dwarf fruit trees have shallow roots and always need staking. Place the stake in the ground after you’ve planted the tree, 2 to 3 feet from the trunk. Fasten the tree to the stake with a wire threaded through a cut piece of garden hose, or use soft fabric lashings. Do not allow wire to lie directly on the tree’s trunk.
  • Wrap arborvitae, privet and boxwood in burlap if you live in an area with high, harsh winds. Better yet, plant these species in a location protected from winds.
  • Store pruning tools in a wooden bench, such as furniture by Kingsley Bate.
  • Do heavy pruning in late winter while the tree is dormant. Your goal in pruning is to remove branches that grow vertically, remove diseased or deformed branches and allow more light into the canopy of the tree. Heavy pruning in late summer or early fall isn’t recommended, because it encourages new growth, which will be killed during freezing weather.  Summer pruning is difficult because the leaves hide the tree’s form.
  • Clean up and discard leaves, twigs and branches in the fall, especially if your tree is afflicted by disease. Fire blight, leaf blight and other fungal and bacterial diseases overwinter in dead plant matter.

Use the Right Tools

Wondering what pruning tools to use for trees and shrubs? In general, hand-held pruning shears work well for pruning individual branches that are less than ¾-inch in diameter. Use loppers for branches that are between ¾ inch and 1 ½ inches in diameter. For bigger branches, you’ll probably want a pruning saw. Compact saws that have a fold-up blade are convenient and small enough to fit in narrow crotches. Pruning shears have an electric blade that cuts quickly and evenly to prune formal hedges or evergreens.

For major pruning, you may want to switch to a chainsaw. Work with a partner when using a chainsaw and always wear protective eyewear and gloves.

One final note: pruning trees and shrubs is as much art as science, and the more you do it the better you’ll become. When in doubt, it’s best to remove just a little bit and prune more later if necessary.

About the Author

Stan Horst lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and specializes in outdoor storage benches for sale.  A former cabinet and furniture maker himself, Horst enjoys educating consumers on outdoor furniture through the Internet. Horst also maintains a vacation cabin rental business, and enjoys outdoor activities with his wife and two teenagers.

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About stanhorst

I am husband of one of the most wonderful moms in the world. We have two teenage children, a boy and a girl. We enjoy spending time together, especially with activities such camping, hiking, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors. We live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.