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If your trees are overgrown and needing a good prune, figuring out when is the best time to trim trees is crucial to their overall health and future. The old school of thumb states to trim and plant trees in the spring and fall, but when exactly does that mean?
Different experts recommend different times to prune, but most are in agreement that it should occur while the tree is dormant and before new growth appears, such as green buds on the trees.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac gets even more specific each year, describing the exact calendar days that are ideal for trimming trees. For 2024, they list the following dates as the best ones to get rid of disease and encourage healthy growth:
- February 4
- February 5
- March 2
- March 3
- March 30
The days change annually, but the general time frame remains the same.
What Month Is Best to Trim Trees?
Most experts agree that late winter is an excellent time to trim trees. The best month to prune your trees depends upon your location and the type of tree. Purdue University has an extension that answers questions about arborism. They point to the months of February and March as ideal for most areas of the country.
If in doubt, consult a nursery or certified arborist in your area to see what timing is best for the tree varieties you have. Before new growth occurs, trees tend to form calluses more quickly. The cut seals and the tree avoids damage.
Should You Trim Trees in Spring or Fall?
Spring or fall? When is the best time to trim trees? The answer is a challenging one. Very late fall when the tree goes dormant can work in some instances. Extremely early spring before new growth is another option.
Ideally, you should trim your trees in the late winter. The tree will be dormant and so will any pests trying to attack the plant. You can cut without worrying about the pests you’ve battled all summer going into the tree and creating more damage. A healthy tree is sealed off and can withstand a few pests.
One reason people dislike woodpeckers landing on their trees is that the bird will drill a hole and leave, letting pests enter. The bird then returns and collects his prize. Unfortunately, the damage caused to the tree in the interim can be catastrophic. The tree may grow weaker and be taken out by high winds or a storm. It also could begin to collect water on the interior and rot from the inside out.
If you trim trees in the spring, you risk exposing them to the very pests you wish to protect them from.
Can You Prune Trees in Summer?
Proceed with caution when pruning trees in the summer. Wait until the end of summer if possible. When you prune early in the season, the tree grows branches and leaves that won’t survive when the first frost hits. The wood is much softer and green when it is new. If you wait too late in the summer, you risk not giving the tree enough time for the wound to heal.
Pruning at the wrong time sometimes leads to winter dieback. Essentially, the tree’s branches are weaker and can’t withstand frost, hard freezes or high winds. You risk losing branches, limbs and possibly the entire tree to damage.
Trees can come back after winter dieback but you’ll have to take additional steps and hope for the best. It’s wiser and less expensive to prevent the issue in the first place.
Why Is Late Winter Often Best?
According to the University of Minnesota, February and early March are an excellent time to trim trees such as:
- Mountain Ash
Although you rarely need to prune evergreens, the best time is still late winter.
Set Up Reminders
People live busy lives. Between work and running the kids to basketball practice, music lessons or school functions, there is little time for pruning trees. It’s also unpleasant outside in many areas during the late winter months.
To make sure you remember to prune your trees at the optimum time, set up a reminder on your digital calendar, paper planner or smartphone. Send yourself an email through FutureMe or another scheduling service.
If you do miss the window for pruning keep in mind it’s best to prune before new growth. If the timing isn’t right for trimming trees, remove only what you must for the time being and wait until the next dormant season before proceeding.
What’s the Verdict? When Is the Best Time to Trim Trees?
Late winter is the best time to trim most trees. The tree and any pests will be dormant. The tree will have time to heal the cut before warmer temperatures hit and insects start moving around. Most people have a window where they can get the job done. Look for a sunny, warmer winter day, don coat and gloves and get to work. Your tree will thank you and reward you with years of healthy growth and enjoyment.