A Guide to Winter Tree Pruning

Apple Tree Pruning

As winter’s frosty embrace settles in over December, January and February, your garden’s trees will be dormant and asleep. But don’t be fooled – this season is the opportune time to give your trees some tender loving care through the magic of pruning. In this article, let’s explore the compelling benefits of winter pruning and demystify the art of giving your trees a makeover during the months from December – February.


overgrown apple tree

The Winter Pruning Advantage

1 – Dormant Bliss: Trees experience a period of dormancy during winter. This dormancy provides a unique window for pruning, as the trees are in a state of rest, allowing them to recover more efficiently.

2 – Disease Defense: Winter pruning helps rid your trees of dead, damaged, or diseased branches that may be lurking in the shadows. Removing these potential threats now ensures a healthier, disease-resistant tree come spring.

3- Shape and Structure: Think of winter pruning as a sculptor’s chisel – it allows you to reveal and enhance the natural structure of your trees. With the foliage out of the way, you can better visualize and shape your trees, promoting a balanced and aesthetically pleasing form.

4 – Promoting Growth: By carefully removing unwanted branches, you’re redirecting the tree’s energy toward new growth. Come spring, you’ll witness the vibrant results of your winter pruning efforts in the form of luscious leaves, blossoms, and healthy shoots.


apple tree with pruning cuts

How To Identify Dead, Diseased & Damaged Branches

Identifying dead, damaged, or diseased branches on a tree requires careful observation. Here are some tips to help you distinguish between healthy and problematic branches

1 – Dead Branches:

Brittle and Dry: Dead branches are often brittle and dry. They may snap easily when bent, and the bark may peel away.

No Leaves: Dead branches typically lack leaves, especially during the growing season. Look for branches with no signs of budding or leafing out.

2 – Damaged Branches:

Cracks or Splits: Look for visible cracks, splits, or wounds on the branches. These can be signs of physical damage from storms, animals, or improper pruning.

Bark Damage: Inspect the bark for any wounds or abrasions. Damaged bark can expose the inner wood, making the branch susceptible to disease.

3- Diseased Branches:

Unusual Growth: Diseased branches may exhibit abnormal growth patterns, such as cankers, swellings, or discoloration.

Fungal Growth: Look for signs of fungal growth, like mushrooms or powdery substances, on the branches. Fungi can indicate a disease issue.

4- Inspect During the Growing Season:

Leaf Discoloration: Check for unusual discoloration or spots on the leaves. Discolored or spotted leaves may be a sign of disease affecting the branch.

Wilting or Drooping: Diseased branches may show signs of wilting, unusual drooping, or a lack of vitality compared to the rest of the tree.

5 – Scratch Test:

Green Underneath: Use your fingernail or a small knife to scratch the surface of a twig or small branch. If the tissue underneath is green, it’s likely alive. If it’s brown or dry, the branch may be dead.

6 – Seasonal Changes:

Observing in Winter: Winter is an excellent time to identify dead branches, as they often lack leaves. However, it may be challenging to differentiate between healthy and dormant branches, so use other indicators as well.

Regularly inspecting your trees, especially during the growing season, will help you spot and address any issues promptly. If in doubt, or if you have concerns about the health of your trees, consulting with a professional horticulturist or arborist is recommended. They can provide expert advice and assistance in maintaining the health and vitality of your trees.


old water feature

The Gentle Art of Winter Pruning: A Symphony of Pruning Cuts

1 – Select the Right Tools: Before you embark on your pruning adventure, arm yourself with quality set of ladders (we recommend Henchman Tripod Ladders), pruning secateurs (Either Felco or Okatsune), an extendable pole pruner (Fiskar are a great brand), loppers, and a pruning saw (Silky Saws are also a great brand for hand held pruning saws). These tools will be your companions in pruning your trees.

2 – The Three D’s Rule: Dead, damaged, and diseased – these are the branches that need to go. We have already discussed above on the best way to assess these branches on your tree. Start by identifying and gently removing these culprits to promote the tree’s overall well-being.

3 – Mind the Collar: When making cuts, pay attention to the branch collar – a swollen area at the base of the branch. This natural feature aids in the healing process, so leave it intact to shield your tree from potential infections.

4- Strategic Shaping: Have a vision for your tree’s silhouette? Carefully prune to enhance its natural shape. Remove any competing or crossing branches to encourage a well-balanced and open canopy.

5- Clean and Compliment: Once the pruning is complete, step back and admire your handiwork. Ensure your tools are clean and well-maintained, ready for the next gardening escapade.


In conclusion, winter pruning is a gift you give to your trees, setting the stage for a vibrant and flourishing spring. Embrace the quietude of January and February. Your trees will thank you with renewed vigor, and you’ll enjoy the symphony of nature in full bloom. Winter is not just a time for hibernation – it’s a season of rejuvenation for your leafy companions. Happy pruning!

Apple Tree Pruning

Some Considerations Before Pruning Your Garden Trees

1 – Equipment: To make: the right clean cuts, at the right heights, in the right places takes patience, time and especially proper working equipment. Make sure your euipment is fully working and is not damaged or blades blunt. Working at height with unsafe equipment is just not worth the risk, and making pruning cuts with blunt equipment can cause infection and disturb healthy growth in your trees future development. You should always weight up whether your time, safety and buying the right equipment is  worth it compared to hiring a professional team of gardeners to do the work for you.


2 –  Waste – Pruning a tree is one job, but then cutting the waste down to fit into a car and take to a local tip is an entirely different other task. Normally professional gardeners and aborists will use commercial shredders or chainsaws to bag and chop up the branches. Professionals will also have the right vehicle and licenses to dispose of the waste easily and safely at a more cost effective price than you could yourself. Again it is worth weighing up the size of the tree and the intended pruning work required and whether the amount of waste at the end will be too much to deal with on your own.