B. Rosie Lerner
Purdue Extension


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Assess Pruning Needs

Now that other yard chores have slowed down, many gardeners turn to their landscape plants to assess their pruning needs.  Dead limbs can and should be taken down whenever they are present.  But cutting into live tissue should be delayed until late winter or early spring.  That is the time of year when the pruning cuts will heal most rapidly. 

Pruning at the wrong time of year will not kill a tree or shrub outright, but may lead to other problems.  Pruning in autumn may cause some late new growth which does not harden-off properly and  could be injured by winter extremes.  Wounds that are slow to heal over are more susceptible to further dieback during the cold, windy months ahead. 

Autumn is a good time to determine which plants need attention and to choose a pruning service, if needed.   Pruning of most shrubs and small trees can be easily completed yourself. Young trees may need some thinning each year to remove weak or damaged branches or excess growth.  Make notes of what to cut next winter or spring before the new growth begins.  Most mature trees should not need pruning except to remove dead limbs.  For large limbs or tall trees, it's best to call a professional who will have the proper equipment and skill. 

Whatever the tree or shrub, remember that topping is not a sound pruning practice.  Topping results in numerous, fast-growing new shoots which are much weaker and more susceptible to wood rots than the original growth and in the case of large trees, are more likely to cause damage to property and power lines.

It is important to do your homework before you hire a professional.  Check with your friends and neighbors to see if they can recommend a particular firm.  Look in the yellow pages of the telephone directory under tree service.  You can narrow the list of choices by selecting those that belong to professional organizations such as an arborists' association.  These associations sponsor continuing education programs to help keep the members up-to-date.  Be sure to ask the firm for estimates and references from their current customers. 


Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox