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Winter Pruning Basics

The dead of winter is the ideal time to prune dormant plants in and around Sonoma County.  It is this time of year when sap is flowing the slowest or not at all.  There are no leaves on the plants to prevent seeing where to make pruning cuts.  Making the proper cuts now will lead to better performance during the growing season including better growth patterns, better flowers and fruit production. Here around Healdsburg, the Gardenworks crews are hard at it – working on roses, fruit trees and other dormant shrubs and trees. Tools of the Trade for pruning this winter:

  1. By-pass pruners (the cutting blade slides by the holding blade)

  2. Pruning saw for large cuts

  3. Long handled loppers for larger canes, stems, branches

  4. Pole pruner/pole saw

  5. Orchard ladder

  6. Thick gloves and eye protection

  7. Disinfectant for tools to use between cuts or at least between plants

  8. Plant ID method to research fruiting and flowering wood to know where to make cuts Step by Step Pruning:

  9. Remove weak, dead and or damaged stems, canes and branches

  10. Remove suckers that rise from below the graft union at base of plant. Cut them as close to the main stem as possible

  11. Remove crisscrossing canes, stems and branches

  12. Prune to thin and open interior.  Select the healthiest canes, stems or branches to remain and prune others away to leave an open spacing that looks even.  Good air circulation during the growing season helps to dissuade pests and diseases and results in healthy fruit and flowers

  13. Make head cuts (cut location down from end of branch) only to lower the height.  In general plants should be planted to allow for their mature size, but fruit trees can be an exception for back yard orchards

  14. Prune to an outside facing bud

  15. Cut at an angle approx. ¼” above the bud you are pruning to. This allows for water to run off the cut

  16. For large stems and branches make cut at the shoulder where it meets the main stem or dominant stem.  Be aware of potential “kickback” when a large branch falls.

  17. Apply a dormant spray to kill disease spores or insect eggs.  Follow instructions on the label!

  18. Pick up trimmings, fallen leaves and any fruit left immediately as they can harbor pests and diseases Safety First:

  19. It’s cold this time of year.  Stretching exercise before starting will help

  20. Watch for slippery, wet and or icy conditions

  21. Know how to work tools and make cuts – be aware of your surroundings

  22. Remember thick gloves and eye protection

  23. Know ladder safety.  Consider a spotter.

  24. Follow safe bending protocols

  25. Watch for thorns, sharp stems Keep in mind, that for the most part, plants are resilient and will grow back from a lack of experience and making not so good cuts.  Learning what plant you are pruning and the specifics about its care and growth is important but will still be trial and error until you gain enough experience to be confident. If this seems like too much, feel free to connect with the Gardenworks team and we can come out, review your plants and provide an estimate to do the pruning for you.


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