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Why You Should Never Prune In the Fall

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If you grow bushes and trees in your garden, you may be tempted to prune them when cleaning out the garden in the fall, but this is one of the worst things you could do. Here’s why.

Whether it’s just our desire to put the garden to bed for the winter and make everything neat and tidy, or because we’ve heard fall is a good time to prune back our plants, it actually could end up harming your plants, says gardening expert Mike McGrath. While it might be tempting to clean up those imperfections you can see once the leaves are gone, hold off for a couple more months.

Here’s why you should leave your pruning shears in the shed until at least mid-winter – or spring, if you can.

Why Fall Is Not Prime Time For Pruning

“As I try to stress every year at this time, pruning them now stimulates new growth just when the plants are trying to go dormant, and this severely weakens the plants,” says McGrath. “Plus, if you prune on a warm day, sap rises up into the plant. Then, it drops below freezing that night, and boom—not a pretty sight.”

Instead, prune in the dead of winter or in early spring, he suggests. That’s if you can’t stop yourself. “Spring bloomers can get a haircut right after they finish flowering. But get over this pruning obsession—few plants other than fruit trees actually require it, and most gardeners do too much, not too little,” McGrath contends.

…Waiting until winter means that most woody plants are dormant, and because leaves have already fallen, it makes it easier for you to see what you’re doing. For early spring bloomers (like lilacs and spireas) that only need light pruning, prune them just after they finish blooming. For very overgrown deciduous shrubs, winter pruning is probably best.
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Know How To Hack

Pruning can allow more sunlight and air to filter through the trees and shrubs, which can help keep them healthy. When it’s time to prune, focus first on removing dead or dying branches. If you see a sickly branch, cut between the diseased spot and the body of the plant. Johnson also recommends pruning when branches rub or cross each other (cut the smaller branch off), or if a branch is growing vertically. You can also take off really low branches that could interfere with foot traffic or lawnmowers. Cut the branch as close to the source as you can. “I prefer to prune back to the main stem. If you leave a stub sticking out, it’s an area for bacteria and insects to harbor,” says Johnson. And make sure you cut at the same angle as the branch collar—the furrow of bark where branch and trunk meet. If you’ve done it right, a circle of healthy callus will eventually swell around the spot.

Know What To Hack

There is a long list of trees and shrubs that you can prune from winter until the sap starts flowing again in spring. Some of them include: glossy abelia, beauty berries, hydrangeas, Bradford and Callory pears, crabapples, poplar, spruce, junipers, sumacs, cherries, and plums. However, because some trees can ooze sap when pruned in the winter, you’re better off waiting until the summer to prune maples, birches, dogwoods, walnuts, and elm trees.

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Read the full article at Rodale’s Organic Life

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