Why we prune Shrubs in the dormant season…

prune dormant plants

There can be no such thing as a Fair Weather Gardener.

Many people think of landscape maintenance as exclusively a warm-weather activity. They picture sunny days, shorts & t-shirts and getting to spend all your time in the great outdoors.

It is true, we get days like that and are very lucky to work in an industry that allows us to achieve this. It’s not all roses though! When cooler temperatures bring you indoors, out of sight should not mean out of mind when it comes to your shrubs because the best time to prune many of them is actually in the dormant season, when plants are not growing.

Why prune when plants are dormant?

  • When a shrub is dormant, it is much easier to identify problem branches than when the shrub is crowded with growing leaves or needles. You can spot the crossing branches, the dead, damaged or diseased shoots.
  • Removing dead or dying branches redirects the resources they would have used to be channeled to the plant’s healthy areas. There is no point in a plant sending resources to diseased areas when it can divert to active areas of plant growth.
  • Healthy plants are better prepared to withstand damage from harsh weather conditions. Think of how it works on you (not suggesting you turn the shears on yourself!!) – you are more susceptible to colds and flu when you are stressed or run down from over work, lack of sleep and so on.
  • In the cooler months, the open cuts in the bark are less vulnerable to pest or disease damage. These too are largely dormant so there is far less risk of infestations.

The dormant season—generally late Autumn to early Spring—is also a good time to prune because pruning cuts in the bark will heal more quickly than during the growing season. Since the pruning process will not coincide with new growth, plants can focus their efforts on repairing pruning cuts before they channel their energies into growing and blooming.

What to Prune now?

There are many shrubs that are best pruned in the dormant season, many of which are summer bloomers. Some of these include:

  • Barberries
  • Cotoneasters
  • Hydrangeas
  • Mallow
  • Potentilla
  • Smoke Bushes
  • Spirea

The reason for pruning these now is you encourage new shoots and active strong growth the following Spring which leads to increased flushes of flower.

It’s important to note that not all shrubs are best trimmed when the weather is cool. Many spring flowering shrubs such as forsythias and lilacs are not good candidates for dormant season pruning. They are best pruned right after they bloom. Dormant season pruning may eliminate their buds and diminish their spring show.

How to Prune plants?

The correct way to prune shrubs depends on the form of the plant.

Some shrubs, such as Forsythia and Weigela grow from basal shoots. To control size, pick the oldest, largest shoots and trim them off at ground level with a loping shears or pruning saw. Other shrubs, grow as dense clumps with many branches like Spirea. These may require only light shaping. But you can cut them back completely to just above soil level, to reduce size and regenerate a fresh crown.

Some shrubs such as Boxwood, Myrtle, Junipers & Barberry are often clipped to form a hedge or manicured shape. These need regular shaping one or two times a season. Avoid cutting them back to the woody branches. Just shape them lightly on the outside with hedge shears.

Some shrubs look best as feature plants in an open, naturalistic form, such as Azaleas or shrub Magnolia. These shrubs usually only need minor trimming to maintain a good shape. Reach into the crown with your secateurs to remove crossing shoots an this out the crown.

Avoid the temptation to take the shears to every shrub in your landscape. There is nothing worse than seeing a garden with all plants rounded into shapes regardless of species. By using the appropriate method for each shrub, the result will be a healthier, more beautiful plant in a natural looking garden environment.

Compost your Waste

Don’t forget that all your green waste is being removed for recycling in an approved composting facility.


prune plants when dormant

The question most have is what happens with diseased or pest infected shoots? The composting process is amazing to see in action. The heat of decomposition ensures that any diseased growth is properly ‘cooked’ to kill off any remaining infection ensuring that pests and diseases are not being transmitted or moved from one location to another.

Logical Logistics of Winter Pruning

Besides the benefits to the plants themselves, the dormant season makes logistical sense when it comes to pruning shrubs. In colder months, the ground is typically firm, if not frozen. This stability means you will be unlikely to harm the soil areas surrounding your shrubs as you prune. Dormant months are also a good time for pruning because there is little else to be done in terms of your lawn and landscaping. Once the weather breaks, there will be no shortage of outdoor tasks – so it makes sense to take care of pruning before things get too hectic.

Pruning during the dormant season encourages vigorous growth in the spring and summer and also adds to your shrubs’ long-term health. We would always recommend a winter top dressing of compost as a mulch to ensure that there is a fresh batch of nutrients readily available to the plants when growth returns in Spring.

If you need guidance or assistance regarding an optimal strategy be sure to contact us.

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