Evergreens bring such great balance to the landscape. They provide incredible texture and depths of green. Depending on your location, they even bring you that much needed privacy and greenery during those winter months when your deciduous trees and shrubs have lost their leaves.
Evergreens can be so hardy and reliable that you might even think they don’t need a lot of pruning or maintenance. But just like your other trees need some love, you can’t ignore the needs of your evergreens.
Most evergreens have a unique shape that keeps them attractive without any pruning. This might make you think you can skip it. But there are a few moments when trimming evergreens can be worthwhile.
For instance, pruning out dead, diseased or broken branches can boost the health of your tree. And sometimes properly pruning for shape can also boost your tree’s aesthetics.
Once you’re sold on the need for pruning evergreens, your next question may be, “When is the best time to trim evergreens?”
This is a great question because you are recognizing that evergreens, unlike deciduous trees, have specific needs. Even further, specific evergreen varieties will have different requirements compared to others.
Let’s explore the best time to prune evergreens and the complexities involved, depending on which evergreen you’re dealing with.
Best Time to Prune Evergreens
Pruning evergreens is done for some very specific reasons. You should remember that it’s never a good idea to trim evergreens without a good purpose in mind. Why? This can lead you to overprune the plant and cause some additional challenges like inviting diseases or pests or even negatively impacting overall plant health because of added stress.
The main reasons for trimming evergreens are:
- To remove dead or damaged branches
- To maintain plant health
- To maintain size
- To shape or train the plant’s growth
In addition to having a specific agenda, applying the appropriate pruning method depending on your specific evergreen species is vital to this process.
Here are some of the plant types you’re dealing with:
- Broadleaf evergreens have foliage that is not needle-like. Think hollies.
- Conifers include needled evergreens like pine and spruce, as well as flat scaled leafy types like cypress and arborvitae.
- Deciduous trees like maples and some oaks lose their leaves in the fall and regrow them in the spring. Deciduous conifers are needle-leaved trees that lose their needles in the fall after they provide some color. Examples of these are the bald cypress and dawn redwood.
Each of these have different trimming requirements.
Pruning conifers can be different from pruning deciduous trees. When you plant conifers in the right space and with the right room for growth, they can actually require very little pruning.
When trimming evergreens is necessary, the best time to prune conifers is winter or very early spring when they are dormant and before growth begins.
The next best time to prune evergreens, particularly conifers, is after the new season’s growth is complete, usually late June or July.
Minimal pruning is always best with conifers. They don’t recover quickly from trimming mistakes or haphazard cutting. If you planted a conifer in a space that is too small for its growth, then you may have to trim it a bit more. As a general rule, though, it is not advisable to remove more than one-third of the plant at any one time. This will stress the tree, and it will take longer to recover.
There are some specifics when it comes to certain conifer varieties.
- Pines: Trim pines as new growth forms in spring.
- Spruces and firs: Prune new growth in late winter or early spring.
- Arborvitae: Prune in early spring or mid-summer. They can handle a bit heavier pruning in spring.
- Junipers: Prune them early in the season - April to May - depending on your growing zone. Avoid pruning in mid- to late summer as it will add new growth that will not be hardy enough by the time winter arrives.
Pruning Deciduous Trees
Some people think fall is a good time to prune deciduous trees, but that’s not the case. Trees are storing up all of their carbohydrates and preparing for dormancy. If fall pruning is necessary for any reason, consulting with a professional arborist is best since he or she can take measures to ensure less risk to your beloved landscape investments.
The best time to prune deciduous trees then is winter or early spring - think December through early April. This will be before they begin leafing out.
When it comes to deciduous conifers, prune them when they are dormant in late winter or after needle fall. Your focus should be on lightly trimming back the outermost growth.
Pruning Broadleaf Evergreens
Looking to prune your broadleaf evergreens? These require different timing compared to conifers and other evergreens. Generally, you want to prune broadleaf evergreens in early spring or mid-summer.
When it comes to some of your favorites, you’ll want to understand more about the plant to ensure success when trimming evergreens.
Boxwoods are a popular landscape plant. They tend to tolerate pruning well. Most boxwoods have a nice informal shape without much pruning, except for the occasional trimming to clean out dead branches and lightly for shape. This can be done almost any time during the growing season, but avoid late fall to prevent any winter browning.
Hollies are also a regular in home landscapes. Most of the time, pruning hollies in winter when they are dormant is a good plan. Trimming these evergreens helps keep their shape and appearance looking neat, as well as encourages new growth.
Best Time to Prune Evergreen Shrubs
Your trimming schedule wouldn’t be complete without also looking at evergreen shrubs and where they fit into the mix. Shrubs like Juniper and yew fall into this category.
Pruning evergreen bushes is best done in late March or early April before new growth begins. Light pruning can also happen in late June or early July.
Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall, since they are more susceptible to winter injury.
Whichever type of tree you have in your yard, it’s always important to research the species you are pruning and observe its growth habits.