Why Not to Fall Prune
by Sandy Swegel
September is the time of year I like to tell you to quit working. I want you to leave some leaves and debris on the beds to give ladybugs and lacewings a place to overwinter. I want you to have seed heads for birds to eat. And I want you to enjoy the “winter interest” of an abundant garden of grasses and flowers frozen in place.
Another big don’t do it is Fall Pruning, especially for those of us in colder climates. It is so tempting to tidy up the garden by doing the pruning you didn’t get around to in the Spring, but for most plants, it’s better to wait until they are dormant or just emerging next Spring. Studies have shown than Fall Pruning can reduce winter hardiness in plants. If you cut the plants now, they are going to put their energy into vigorously regrowing instead of just settling into dormancy.
What Not to Prune Now
Spring Bloomers. If you prune lilacs or azaleas or forsythia now, you’ll be cutting off flowers buds that have already set for next year.
Rose Canes. I know the rose garden can look unruly and untidy in winter. But winter always kills back the canes at least a little. Better to have the canes die back from five feet high than from one foot high.
Trees. The National Arbor Day Foundation advises specifically against fall pruning: “Because decay fungi spread their spores profusely in the fall and healing of wounds seems to be slower in fall on cuts, this is a good time to leave your pruning tools in storage.”
Winter will be here soon enough. Some nice warmish winter day once the trees are dormant, you can get out and prune.
Sure, if a limb is dead or broken you can cut it . . . but only into the dead wood for now.