One of the most common questions we hear is “What do you do in the winter?” Simply put: we zip up our coats and do the same work we do in the spring, summer, and fall.
This response often leads people to wonder how we know what to prune in the winter since the trees have no leaves. It does take a little eye-training, but after a day or two, it becomes quite easy to distinguish dead from living branches even from the ground. Some of the obvious signs are mushrooms covering the bark, all small twigs missing from the branch, or bark missing from the branch. If the limb hasn’t been dead long enough to show any of the above signs, we can look at the bark or buds of the branch. The buds of a dead branch will either be very small and dried up, or non-existent, and the bark may have a different color or look shriveled up compared to nearby living tissue.
Most people assume that we don’t prune in the winter. However, there are certain species of trees that must be pruned in the dead of winter to help prevent disease; especially fungal disease. Oaks and Elms are great examples of this. Both species suffer from fungal diseases that will outright kill a tree over one or two growing seasons. These trees are more susceptible to diseases because insects can carry fungal spores and introduce them to a healthy tree with any damage or pruning cut. By pruning in the dormant season, the trees are less susceptible to disease through insect vector.
Pruning trees in the winter may look insane and very hard to do, but sometimes it is the only way to keep the health of the tree as our top priority.
~ Jonathan Bantle