How Fall Tree Pruning In the Colder Months Keeps Your Trees Healthy All Year Long

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Your trees, shrubs, and other plants are settling in for a long winter’s nap, but you’ve still got some work to do.

Your trees may have survived our busy hurricane season, but it wasn’t by accident. Taking some crucial steps now in the colder months will help your trees weather many storms to come. Tree care needs in Florida are as unique as our climate. Fall tree pruning in the right way, at the right time, keeps them healthy, beautiful, and strong.

And it’s not just your trees that need a little TLC this fall and winter. We’ve got some fall landscaping tips for Florida that will help your yard look its best all year long.

Fall tree pruning is vital for maintaining healthy trees.

According to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), there are four major reasons to prune a tree:

  1. To help with flower or fruit production
  2. To encourage tree growth
  3. To change the shape or look of a tree
  4. To support tree health

Your annual fall tree pruning project should be done with careful planning. Done poorly, pruning can leave you with a weakened tree that could become a safety hazard. Poor pruning can also stunt a plant’s ability to produce stunning blossoms and delicious fruit.

When it comes to pruning, timing is everything.

While tree pruning is important, you need to consider timing. During the fall, your pruning should focus on removing broken, diseased, or dying branches. You can do light pruning like this throughout the year.

Now that we’re headed into winter, it’s a good time to start making plans for more in-depth pruning. When you prune parts of the live tree, you are creating a wound. It is best to do most tree trimming in the colder months so that your trees have time to heal before the growing season.

January is a great time to prune non-spring flowering trees and shrubs, as well as deciduous fruit trees (think peach, plum, and Asian pear). The first part of the year is also the perfect time to prune rose bushes.

The type of pruning your tree needs depends on its age, health, and location.

According to the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), there are four different types of pruning:

  • Cleaning removes dead, diseased, and weak branches. This can be done regularly throughout the year.
  • Raising removes the lowest branches of a tree. This practice provides room for fertilizer, machines, structures, and people.
  • Thinning removes some branches in the upper part of a tree to allow for more sunlight and air circulation. It also reduces the amount of weight the tree is bearing.
  • Reduction makes the tree smaller so that it is less of a fall hazard. Done correctly, this practice will not compromise the tree’s structure and strength.

Remember, tasks like thinning and reduction require the expertise of a skilled arborist to avoid damaging the tree.

Heavy tree trimming should be done only with a good reason and with professional guidance.

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) lists several things to consider before pruning a tree.

  • Is the tree healthy?
  • Is the tree young and growing rapidly or mature, with slower growth?
  • Have the tree’s roots been severed or damaged at any point?
  • Is the tree suffering from disease?
  • Is the species of tree tolerant of heavy pruning?

Certified tree care specialists, or arborists, can help you complete your fall tree pruning projects. They are specially trained to keep the safety, health, and beauty of your trees intact. Learn more about the benefits of working with a certified arborist.

Any tree care company you hire should know to avoid two harmful pruning practices.

There are two common pruning practices that actually end up damaging your trees in the long-run: lion’s tailing and topping.

Lion’s tailing is the practice of thinning the inner branches of a tree, leaving tufts of leaves at the end. The result looks like a lion’s tail. The purpose of lion’s tailing is to make trees safer by lightening some of the top-heavy weight. Instead, this type of tree trimming weakens the branches and makes them more likely to break off in heavy winds.

If any of your trees have been harmed by lion’s tailing, a well-trained arborist can help the tree recover.

Another harmful tree trimming practice is topping. Also called “heading” or “rounding-over,” topping involves cutting off all the branches of a tree to reduce its height. The goal of topping is to keep the tree from becoming a fall risk.

However, topping actually increases risk in the long-run for several reasons:

  • It stresses trees. Trees get their food through their leaves. When too many leaf-bearing branches are removed, a tree can’t get the nutrients it needs to stay healthy.
  • It leads to decay. Topping creates cuts in places that the tree may not be able to close. These wounds open the tree up to decay that it won’t be able to “wall off” from the main part of the tree.
  • It leads to sunburn. A tree’s leaves absorb sunlight to produce energy for the tree. Removing too many affects the growth of the tree. Also, the sun damages the bark, leading to cankers, bark splitting, and dying branches.

Having a tree damaged by topping on your property can cost you more in the long-run. It’s not attractive, and it’s illegal in many parts of Florida.

However, sometimes it really is necessary to shorten the height of a tree. A certified arborist knows how to do this safely while keeping your tree beautiful and strong.

Trees aren’t the only part of your yard that needs maintenance in the fall and winter.

One of the biggest advantages of living in Florida is our mild winters. But that doesn’t mean that our yards don’t need a little attention to make it through the colder months. Here are some tips for fall yard maintenance in Florida to help you keep your yard beautiful and healthy.

One of the best things you can do for the health of your yard this season is to lay down a layer of mulch.

Mulch has many benefits:

  • It keeps roots warm in the winter (and cool in the summer), protecting them from damage
  • It traps in moisture, meaning you don’t have to water your plants as much
  • It keeps weeds from growing, so you don’t have as much work to do to keep them under control
  • It prevents soil erosion, which keeps valuable nutrients in place

After you’ve done any pruning, it’s a good idea to lay down some fertilizer and mulch to help the tree recover faster. Give us a call to see what we have available.

When you put down mulch, keep in mind these tips from IFAS:

  • Remove old mulch before putting down a fresh layer. After a while, mulch can stick together and prevent rain and air from getting through to the roots.
  • Lay down a 2-3 inch layer. This thickness insulates the roots without completely blocking out rainwater.
  • Don’t pile mulch against the base of the tree. One job of mulch is to trap moisture, which can encourage rot on the tree trunk.
  • Apply mulch at least 8 feet in diameter around the tree. This way, you can be sure you’ve covered the entire root system.

Deciduous trees have an advantage in the fall and winter.

Some people avoid having deciduous trees in their yard because they don’t want to take the time to rake the leaves.

But these color-changing trees aren’t just beautiful. They come with their own mulching system! Those fallen leaves keep the root system warm. As they decay, they add nutrients to the soil, helping sustain the growth of the tree.

So go ahead and mark “rake leaves” off your to-do list. And know that you’ve taken care of part of your mulching project as well!

Beware of sudden cold snaps during the winter months.

For your cold-sensitive plants, mulching won’t be enough. You’ll need to be sure to cover them or bring them inside when the temperature gets near or below freezing.

Since you can’t bring your palm trees in out of the cold, be sure to check them regularly for cold damage.

Winter in Central Florida is still a growing season when you know what to plant.

You don’t have to wait until spring to add color to your lawn this winter. Choose annuals that are cold-weather tolerant, which do well in the mild Central Florida winter. This includes pansies, snapdragons, and petunias. Winter is also the perfect time to plant camellias and azaleas.

If you want to include bulbous flowers like amaryllis, now is the time to get them planted. Just be sure to lay down a layer of mulch and keep the area well-watered.

Deciduous fruit trees should also be planted now so that they have time to get established before the dry, warm months of the Central Florida spring. Fertilize any existing fruit trees currently growing in your yard.

If you’d like to grow your vegetable garden this season, consider carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, and some varieties of potatoes. You can also plant seeds in February. Just be sure to protect them from the cold as needed.

As you can see, there is plenty to do in winter and the late fall to maintain the health and beauty of your yard.

Tree Care by Robert Miller is always on hand to help make the most out of your fall tree pruning projects or just to help you make the most of your winter landscape.

How Fall Tree Pruning In the Colder Months Keeps Your Trees Healthy All Year Long

Time to Read: 7 min