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Pruning and Planting Trees In the Winter Months

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By Chris Tyson, Tattnall Extension Agent

During the cold fall and winter months of the year, there’s not always a lot going on in your landscape.  However, the cold dormant months of winter and fall are some of the best times of the year to do some work on trees in your landscape. Whether you are pruning or planting, these months are the best time to think about trees. 

                Take a good look at your landscape.  Are there any large shade trees that need pruning?  Are there any trees along your driveways or walking paths that get in your way or scrape the top of your car?  Sometimes trees such as pecans and other fruit trees are weighted down during the growing season, and the branches pick back up after all the leaves and fruit has fallen.  Don’t forget these as well.  What about planting? Are there any areas of your landscape you think are missing a tree?  There are trees of all sizes that can fit into some very small areas. What about a large shade tree?

                The best time to prune large trees is in winter during dormancy – so you take no chances on weakening trees and fewer chances of introducing disease and pests. Remove dead and declining twigs and branches. Don’t leave pests food and shelter for the winter.  Properly prune branches that will touch the ground when loaded with rain, foliage, or fruit.  Foliage that comes in contact with the soil can invite pests and disease. 

                This time of year is also excellent for planting large shade trees, fruit trees, and many smaller, ornamental trees.  The winter months are the best because the tree can use all of its energy to establish roots instead of supporting leaves and fruit.  While you might not think too much is going on with a tree this time of year, because of no foliage, the roots will be actively growing and preparing for spring.  Planting a few months before spring will give the tree time to establish roots and store energy for spring budding. 

                It’s important to plant a tree correctly if you want to ensure its survival.  Healthy trees start before planting. Select the proper plant for the site. Do not plant a shade loving tree like dogwood in the sun. Do not plant a sun-loving tree like crape myrtle in the shade. Dig very wide planting holes. They need to be a minimum of two to five times the diameter of the root ball. This gives the tree lots of soft soil to send roots out into. Never plant a tree deeper than it originally grew. If feasible, you may want to plant into raised beds to insure good drainage.

Planting in the winter time does not mean that trees don’t need to be watered, however.  If you plant a tree, make sure it gets adequate water, but is not flooded. Roots that are too wet can kill a tree, and this is probably the number one killer of new trees.  It would probably be a good a idea to give a newly planted tree a light watering every couple of days for the first month or so (in hot weather it would need water every day).

If you have any questions about pruning or planting trees, give us a call at 557-6724.

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Here’s a diseased pine tree in a landscape that may need to be pruned or cut down.