How to Trim Trees in the Winter


According to Texas A&M University, more trees are killed every year from improper pruning than from damage done by pests. Trees that grow naturally tend to assume the proper shape over time, and pruning should focus on maintenance rather than shaping. One of the best times to prune a tree is in winter when the tree is dormant. Trees pruned in winter survive the pruning session better than trees pruned in spring or summer when the tree is no longer dormant.

Step 1

Plan your pruning session from start to finish before you cut your first limb. This will help prevent accidentally removing too many or the wrong branches. Never remove more than one third of the plant's total growth to avoid weakening the plant.

Step 2

Sharpen your pruning tools before you begin so you can make clean cuts that heal quickly.

Step 3

Mix a solution containing one part bleach and nine parts water. Use this solution to sterilize the blades of your shears before pruning.

Step 4

Remove branches with loppers and pruning shears by pinching them off with the tool. To remove a large branch with a saw, make your first cut about 4 inches away from the point where it connects to a larger branch. The cut should be on the underside of the branch and should extend one third of the way into the branch. Make a second cut 2 inches further along the branch. The second cut should be on the top of the branch and should extend completely through the branch. Make the third cut to remove the remaining stub. The third branch should start just outside of the growth ridge between the fork in the branches. It should slope downward at a 45-degree angle away from the tree. This will help prevent bark stripping from the tree.

Step 5

Remove all diseased and dead wood. Make all cuts at a 45-degree angle sloping away from the tree. All branches you remove should be cut back to a larger branch that is twice the size of the branch you are removing. Cut back each branch to a branch or a bud that can produce new growth.

Step 6

Remove weak growth and any branches that rub or cross into the center of the tree.

Step 7

Prune off any suckers at the base of the tree. Suckers are tiny tree offshoots that can steal energy from the parent tree.

Step 8

Wrap the tree in burlap when you have finished pruning to protect it from sunscald. Trees that have been pruned in winter are prone to sunscald because pruning exposes the trunk to more sunlight than it is used to.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Branch loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Sharpeners
  • Bleach
  • Burlap


  • Texas A&M University Extension: Follow Proper Pruning Techniques
  • NC State University Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Protecting Trees and Shrubs Against Winter Damage

Who Can Help

  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: pruning trees, winter tree maintenance, sunscalded tree trunks

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."