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Spring Tree Care 101


Photo by Paul Bolstad, University of Minnesota,

Spring is here. It’s time to emerge from our winter dens, blink our eyes in the sun, and look around the garden to see how it has survived winter neglect.  A first instinct may be to get out the tools and take on some pruning projects, but spring is NOT a good time for major tree pruning.  Tree roots store energy from the previous season, and use some of those reserves to produce new flowers and leaves.  Once the leaves have expanded and are producing energy through photosynthesis, energy stores can be refilled.  However, major pruning during the spring flush of growth would rob the tree of the ability to replace the energy expended.  The best time to prune is in the winter when trees are dormant, although pruning is acceptable in mid-summer as well.  Fall, while deciduous trees’ leaves are changing color, is not a good time either, as the leaves are sending nutrients back into the roots for storage.

Pruning dead or broken or otherwise hazardous branches should not harm the tree at any time of year.  Some trees, such as birch and maple, exude sap when pruned in early spring.  This doesn’t harm the tree, but can look bad.  No more than one quarter of the tree canopy should be removed each year, regardless of the season.  Instead of pruning channel your energy into planting, weeding and mulching!

Additional resources:

Tree Pruning guide in 7 languages:

Tree pruning information from International Society of Arboriculture