The best time to prune your trees: Right now - before buds appear

Winter in Northeast Ohio is the season of indoor living. But certified arborists like Mike Ripley see it differently; it’s the best time of year to prune trees.

Trees go dormant during winter; they stop growing, their metabolism slows and they conserve energy. That means they heal better from the effects of pruning than they do during spring and summer, when the healing process diverts energy away from growth. Trees are also less susceptible to disease when dormant; and many of the diseases themselves are inactive during winter.

The dormant season lasts until buds begin to appear, at which point trees are going into their spring growth flush and shouldn’t be pruned.

Many people wait until summer to call a tree service because they believe you can see what needs to be pruned more easily when there are leaves. “An arborist learns to look at the tree through the leaves anyway, and can see what needs to be done when the tree is bare,” Ripley says.

There are a number of reasons to prune trees. Cleaning removes dead and dying branches, to encourage new growth and prevent disease. Thinning improves the shape and structure to improve light and air flow into the crown. Raising and reduction clears away lower branches from houses and other obstructions, and can support the health of shrubs and other plants that live below the canopy.

All pruning is best left to professionals – for safety reasons as well as tree health.

Taking too much off a tree – especially a mature tree – can shorten its life. Improper cuts introduce disease and weaken the tree.

As a rule of thumb, Ripley says pruning should never take more than 25 percent off the crown of a young tree; and no more than 10-15 percent from a mature tree. He also notes that trees heal at a rate of roughly an inch a year; so it takes a decade to recover after a 10-inch diameter limb is removed.

Trees are the most irreplaceable part of your landscape. If you haven’t had them pruned in the last few years, there’s no better time than right now; don’t wait until buds appear. Make sure to work with a certified arborist; nobody knows more about tree care.

This information is provided by Ripley Tree Service, an independent family business serving Northeast Ohio since 2001.

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