A Blog For Tree & Shrub Owners

When to Trim Trees and Shrubs (Part 2 of 2)

Viburnum in BloomDeciding when to prune/trim is confusing to many people because there is no one-size-fits-all answer and even the experts can’t always agree. Yet, it is the most commonly asked question of gardeners, landscapers and arborists! Pruning of live branches is not as critical as many people think, but it is worthy of discussion.

The Best Times for Pruning: (the opposite of Part 1; Worst Times)

  • A mild, dry and seasonal day
  • When the plant is healthy and hasn’t recently been disturbed by construction, storms and/or heavy pruning
  • It depends on how much you plan to cut off;
    A Heavy Trim >50% cutbacks of shrubs, the best time is late winter, early spring
    A Medium Trim ~25% maximum amount to remove annually, early spring and summer
    A Light Trim <15% anytime of season
  • It also depends on whether or not you will miss the full flower effect;
    If you won’t miss some of the blooms, prune anytime of season
    For plants that bloom on current season growth, in late winter, early spring
    For plants that bloom on previous season growth, right after bloom
  • Lastly, Dead branches can be pruned anytime!

In general, the optimal times for ornamental tree and shrub trimming is early spring and summer and those should be the go-to times if you are unsure. Don’t let timing keep you from grabbing your pruners if a haircut is truly needed and you just can’t wait!

When to Trim Trees and Shrubs (Part 1 of 2)

If you are trying to figure out the best time to prune/trim, start first with the worst times to prune (because more experts agree on these) and work backwards from there.

So, what are the worst case scenarios in pruning at the ‘wrong time’?

  • Loss of flowers/fruit
  • Health decline/injury
  • Death

One important point is that pruning at the “wrong” time of year probably won’t kill your tree or shrub, but it may weaken it in the long run. Indeed many plants are trimmed at less than ideal times and yet they survive.

The Worst Times for Pruning:

  • In the rain. Many bacterial and fungal diseases are spread during cold or hot wet weather and fresh cuts make easy access.
  • During a severe drought, or flood like conditions. Energy is precious at these times and taking off branches is adding additional stress.
  • When current or upcoming temperatures are extreme. Fresh cuts are open, exposed living cell tissue that can dry out or freeze and the wood surrounding the cut can dieback.
  • When your tree or shrub is unhealthy. Wait for it to recover by giving it time and treatment (if necessary) before pruning.
  • After storm damage, root injury (like construction) or heavy pruning. Plants need time to recover from loss of branches and roots before any trimming is done.
  • Right before bloom. Does this really need explaining? Well, OK, maybe flowers and fruit aren’t your first priority.

To be continued in When To Trim, Part 2.

If A Tree Causes Damage, Who’s Responsible?

smashcar (1)A recent story in which 2 people were killed when a tree fell on their car has brought about the question who will pay and who is responsible for these deaths? The land that the tree was on is supposedly owned by the City of Abington, but because it is unclear, the city must take a new survey of the property lines to see if the tree actually was on city land and also provide evidence that the city had exercised their duty of care to avoid a large payout. A duty of care is the city’s legal obligation to ensure a reasonable degree of safety for people and property near their trees. As a tree owner, you also have the same duty of care for trees on your property. Simply calling a tree falling over an ‘Act of God’ doesn’t always avoid a pointed finger.
Maintaining your trees at the very minimum should include an assessment of trees that could fall onto people or property (including neighbors, public sidewalks, roadways and utility lines). In the event that one of your trees did fall and a court case ensued, you would be able to prove that you exercised your tree care duty/responsibility by having an assessment done by a Certified Arborist. Sometimes, tree removal may be your only option depending on the conditions that are discovered upon inspection and your comfort level with the fall likelihood. In other instances, there are ways to lessen the risk that it will fall by installing cables/braces, specialty pruning and/or continuing to monitor the tree on a regular basis and before storms.
There will always be a risk as long as a tree is standing, but these options help to lessen the risk level and allow you to keep a tree that you really love and wouldn’t want to remove. Large, mature trees are typically what cause people to be scared but they also provide many benefits such as providing shade and cooling, clean air, etc. and are worth keeping if practical and non-threatening.

Mulch Your Trees

mulchIf your trees are growing in lawn or a bare soil area of your yard, they will benefit from having a mulch ring around their base for many reasons. The main advantage is that it will keep lawn mowers and weed whackers away from the trunk where they can cause bark injury. Mulch will also suppress weeds, hold moisture during drought, buffer air temperature extremes and help with soil runoff.

Here are some tips for creating and maintaining a mulch ring around your tree:

  • The first step is to delineate the new area. How big to make the circle is really up to you; consider how much independent space you can give it in your yard and what looks proportional to the tree size.
  • To get rid of grass that is encircling a tree, you can choose an organic method or herbicide treatment. Organic options include smothering the grass with plywood until it dies, or manually digging up the grass (take care not to injure tree roots when doing this). Herbicide treatment involves spraying the delineated lawn area with a grass killing herbicide, but make SURE that it is not a product that also kills trees!
  • Once you have prepped the ring, cover the area with 2-3” deep of mulch. Do not mound the mulch up against the base of the tree and avoid going overboard on the mulch depth because both of these can invite critters, fungi, and moisture problems.
  • To maintain your mulch ring, replenish every 2-3 years with fresh mulch as the old stuff will break down over time and fade in color. Also a light raking every so often will deter fungi and weeds from taking hold.


Mulch is an great way to enhance tree appearance and health. Your trees will thank you!

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