When to Trim Trees and Shrubs

Cut larger limbs while trees and shrubs are dormant.

When is the best time of year to trim tree limbs and cut back shrubs? -Ann

The best time to prune or trim trees and shrubs is during the late winter while they’re dormant. Pruning during the dormant season is ideal because:

  • The wounds heal faster, keeping the plant strong.
  • There is less risk of disease or pest infestation.
  • There is less sap flowing. Bleeding sap doesn’t really hurt the tree, but it’s messy and can attract pests.
  • It’s easier to see what you’re doing while the leaves are gone.

Pruning Guidelines:

  • Conifers: Prune in late winter while fully dormant.
  • Nonblooming Trees and Shrubs: Prune in late winter while fully dormant.
  • Summer-blooming Trees and Shrubs: Prune in late winter.
  • Spring-blooming Trees and Shrubs: Wait until immediately after they bloom. They are the exception to the rule, but you still should prune them as early as you can.

You can remove dead or damaged limbs any time.

You can do the following any time of year:

  • Trim back small tree branches (the size you can cut with handheld lopping shears).
  • Lightly shape hedges and conifers.
  • Remove dead or diseased branches. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes or ice storms, it’s important to remove weakened branches in the fall – it’s better to prune at the wrong time than to have your tree injured by a storm!

Further Information



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20 Comments on “When to Trim Trees and Shrubs”

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  • Jane Waggoner Says:
    October 6th, 2018 at 8:48 am

    When is the time to prune ornamental crab apple trees. They are loaded with those orange red berries right now to the point that branch tips are reaching the ground

  • Tracey Bernier Says:
    September 18th, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Hi guys, learning sooo much from you, first home owner here! First yard, big enough to plant trees in! We bought an elm tree and planted it early fall or late summer last year, she has gotten huge and now as I have been planting more trees and shrubs and learning I see it has a dead branch that was trying to be the dominant trunk? It’s not even a V shape were it comes out of the trunk, no collar, it has branches very low that are almost touching the ground, a lot of criss cross branches, just has a very horrible looking shape to it? But, I noticed the dead branch is causing the trunk to grow funny and am not sure how to cut that and would it still be an anytime cut or a dormant cut since it’s almost parallel to the trunk? We live in Maine and must say I am surrounded by dead trees the previous home owners just didn’t care about, and some probably could be saved and brought back but the cost of just having someone come look at them was unreal! I just don’t know how to learn all I need to know in time to save all of them. It’s very sad. I planted a dogwood in a all day sun spot before I knew not to and am afraid it will not survive. I really need help!! Any suggestions for a desperate newbie in Maine!??

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    August 18th, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    Hi, Rhianna,

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  • Rhianna Hawk Says:
    August 17th, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Thank you for your tips; I had previously thought that springtime was the best time to prune all of my shrubs, but clearly, my conifers will need to be saved until late winter. I haven’t tried pruning my shrubs myself, but they’ve been looking overgrown and I am considering hiring a pruning service to trim them back. It’s good to know that late winter will also prevent pest infestation and disease, as a few of my shrubs have had problems with that in the past when I had an issue of aphids in my yard.

  • Yolanda Says:
    June 3rd, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    My maple tree was cut higher than usual in June. Usually it gets cut with the lower branches because they spread across the entire yard. In the past wood paint was applied on nubs-no harm to the tree. But time I’m am concerned if I need to paint and if the tree will continue to be healthy. She is only 18 years old. She has almost been reshaped to grow higher. Help.

  • alice gunton Says:
    May 25th, 2018 at 11:49 am

    When is it a good time to trim what I call Burning bush(Flaming Bush) I live in the NE?

  • Tony Says:
    May 4th, 2018 at 2:12 am

    Hello I have a friend that wants me to trim the lower dead and some live BIRTCH AND ASH TREES breaches. We live in Mn. Do you think it’s a good idea or not ? Also should I or shouldn’t I use wound spray on them

  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Says:
    March 7th, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    Hi, Angus,
    Here’s Today’s Homeowner TV host Danny Lipford’s answer to your question:
    “The sooner, the better, before the spring growth starts. And trimming them very close to the trunk is recommended.”
    Thanks for writing to us!

  • Angus. Macdonald Says:
    February 26th, 2018 at 5:36 am

    I have a massive beech tree which has a greater amount of large limbs on one side . There is a definite leaning to one side . When is the best time to remove some of these branches and should i take them off at the junction with main trunk . many thanks

  • Shirley Says:
    October 6th, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    When do you trim the lower branches off of a sycamore tree. Not big branches mostly like pruning.

  • Carol Lewis Says:
    September 20th, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I have several olive trees and 2 redwood trees that are in need of pruning. ‘When is the best time to trim these trees? I live in the San Fernando Valley in California where it’s very hot in the summer and usually we do not have a winter, just cool to cold weather.

    Thank you for your reply.

    Carol Lewis

  • Phyllis Weidemann Says:
    August 2nd, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    A couple of seasons ago the utility company came through with water line. They cut a big root off. Since then the tree seems to be dying. We are thinking of trying to take off lower big branches and see if that would help. They have leaves on them. The top is where dying is worse. The last two springs the tree has gotten leaves but they seem to dry up during summer. I assume it is not getting enough moisture in roots that are left. Thank you for any help.

  • rob hyden Says:
    March 6th, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    Very good information, I will leave trimming my trees until next winter thank you
    Anchorage farm

  • Kevin Says:
    August 30th, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    When should eucalyptus in the northern hemisphere (UK) be pruned or reshaped?

  • cheryl Says:
    May 2nd, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    I have some limbs hanging over my flowers and I want the flowers to get sun, will it kill the tree if I cut the limb s off it, also I have limbs hanging over my roof and I need to cut them off, will it kill the tree

  • Janet Stewart Says:
    November 16th, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    Hi, I have a holly, not sure if it is male or female and I want to trim it to a nicer shape. Can I do this now? What is the technique?

  • Chris Francis Says:
    August 21st, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Pruning paints are not necessary and actually cause more harm than good. Just let it drip. It will stop. You likely cut the limb too close to the trunk and removed all or some of the branch collar. The only time to use pruning paints are when particular diseases are known to be in the area, such as Oak Wilt.
    • ISA Certified Arborist (#so-6157A)
    • Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgery
    – Landscape Design
    – Setting of Landscape Plants
    – Ornamental & Turf Pest Control Supervisor
    • ALNLA Certified Landscape Professional
    • AUFA Certified Urban Forester


  • bob Rehkemper Says:
    August 21st, 2013 at 9:21 am

    I cut limbs and the mulberry limbs cut are dripping sap. Is it ok to paint and try to sealcut limb? What material should I seal it

  • Chris Francis Says:
    November 15th, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    @ Herson Rodriguez:
    I have never seen a Kapok tree, so that may be something that is unique to the species, but I would suspect that what you are seeing is either callus tissue forming over wounds or a result of a pest (insect, viral, fungal, etc…). I would not recommend cutting them off just yet. Find a Certified Arborist in your area to examine the tree. Search “ISA Arborist” Expect to pay for the consultation, just like you would pay a doctor for his medical advice and knowledge. I hope that helps.

    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor

    Chris Francis Landscapes

  • herson rodriguez Says:
    March 30th, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Hi! I HAVE A SICK VERY OLD TREE, it has developed kind of big tumors like on it’s branches, now do I cut them off and how can I stop them from growing back again. This tree is a Ceiba Pentandra in Puerto Rico, thank you

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When to Trim Trees and Shrubs