What should you prune in fall and what should wait? With leaves gone, fall is the perfect time to examine your trees, shrubs, and vines and come up with a pruning plan. It’s the time to remove dead, damaged, dangerous, and diseased branches. Other pruning tasks should wait until winter.
What to Prune in Fall
Despite the urge to clean up the fall garden, there are not many pruning tasks to take care of at this time of year.
With leaves falling, it’s a good time to look over trees, shrubs, and hardy vines and note what needs attention.
Fall is the time to clean up any dead, damaged, dangerous, or diseased branches but otherwise, hold off.
Most pruning tasks are best done in the winter or early spring when plants are still dormant and not budding or blooming. That’s the time to prune for better appearance, structure, air flow, and so on.
How To Decide What To Prune
Examine Your Trees, Shrubs, and Hardy Vines
Have a walk around the garden and examine the structure and health of each tree and shrub.
In fall, you can remove:
- Dead branches
- Branches that have been damaged by storms or mishaps
- Branches that present a danger
- Diseased growth: this may take some research to identify
Related: See my DIY Garden Tool Shed
This next group are ones to note in your calendar for winter pruning:
- Overlapping branches that are rubbing together
- Suckers growing from the roots
- Water sprouts (those odd shoots that appear on various parts of trees)
- Fruit tree branches that are too slender to handle the weight of the fruit
How to Select the Right Tool for the Job
Here’s a basic system for determining which pruning tool is best for the job.
First, it depends on whether the material you are cutting is living or dead, and the diameter of the branch.
Bypass style pruners and loppers are best for living plant material, where we want to minimize impact on the remaining parts of the tree. With their scissor-like blades, bypass pruners provide a nice, clean slice.
Anvil-style pruners have a single cutting blade that clamps down on a flat metal plate. They work great on dead branches but should not be used on living material due to their crushing action. Personally, I use bypass pruners for all small cuts.
The other consideration is the size of the branch you’re pruning. If you’ve ever tried cutting a branch with pruners that are too small, you know how hard that is—both for your hands and the tool.
My must-have tools are small bypass pruners, medium loppers, and a good extendable saw so I never have to use a ladder.
You know you’re using the right tool when it cuts easily—like a knife into semi-soft butter!
Pruning Tips for Best Results
1Time It Right
In fall, the goal is to remove non-living branches that are damaged and vulnerable to disease, and those that have diseases.
As tempting as it is, it is best to wait until winter to remove those annoying suckers, water sprouts, overlapping, and rogue branches. Unless a plant is dormant, the act of pruning signals the plant to grow, and you don’t want new growth in fall when the cold weather will soon kill it off.
2Clean Your Blades – A Lot
It’s far too easy to spread disease between plants with infected blades. While it sounds like extra work (it is), it’s best to clean your tools, and specifically, the cutting blades, before use, before moving from one plant to another, and after use.
Pruning tools can be
- washed in mild, soapy water
- disinfected with a bleach solution spray (4 teaspoons household bleach per quart of water for at least one minute)
and should be thoroughly dried before use.
I keep cleaning supplies handy in my tool storage area so they’re ready to go.
3Think Before You Cut
Plan your cuts.
Work in small, manageable bites: it’s safer and easier to remove longer branches in several sections.
Be sure any dangling branches will not harm you or your garden.
Limit your pruning to less than 30% of the plant. This ensures the plant will have the vigor and resources to recover in good time.
4Use the Right Tools
Pick the right tool for the job. Bypass pruners and loppers provide nice, clean cuts, and come in different sizes, depending on the maximum thickness of the branches you are cutting.
An extendable saw is good option for any hard-to-reach and thicker cuts.
And don’t forget to put a reminder in your phone or calendar to deal with any winter pruning tasks.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛