Can You Trim Bushes in the Winter?

Bushes are an integral part of almost any landscape plan, and knowing the best time to trim them can help you keep your shrubs looking their best. In fact, if you don’t trim bushes at the right time of the year, you may end up killing them.

For most bushes, late winter is the ideal time to trim them to ensure strong, healthy growth in the growing season that follows. Make winter pruning an integral part of your garden maintenance routine to keep bushes growing well.

What’s the Point of Trimming Back Your Bushes?

Most bushes benefit from regular trimming. Not only does it help stimulate new growth for a fuller, more lush appearance, but also gives you an opportunity to train them into an attractive shape. Finally, regular trimming will help prevent the development of diseases that can affect the long-term survival of your bushes.

Is Trimming Bushes in the Winter Better than Trimming in the Fall?

It is highly recommended that you trim bushes in winter rather than in the fall. During the autumn months, your bushes have not yet entered their dormant phase when all growth is halted until spring.

Trimming bushes in the fall will stimulate fresh growth that will be blasted by the cold weather that lies ahead. That can cause long-term damage or even kill your bush.

In fact, fall is the worst time of the year to trim bushes, while winter is best for most species.

Why You Should Avoid Trimming Bushes in Early Winter?

You Should Avoid Trimming Bushes Before Winter

There is often not a big difference between late fall and early winter in terms of weather. Especially if December starts off mild, bushes will not have fully shut down for the winter, and pruning them too early can lead to tender new growth that will not survive the really cold temperatures that will soon arrive.

However, if you want to trim your holly bushes to get some fresh greenery for Christmas decorating, you can do that safely if you time your pruning carefully. Wait for a cold spell of about 5 days, when temperatures will fall below freezing at night. Do your trimming after a few days, late in the afternoon.

What Time of Year Should You Trim Your Bushes?

The best time of year for trimming bushes depends on the species. While most bushes are best pruned in the cold winter months, spring-flowering bushes should be left alone.

These bushes, such as lilacs, azaleas, or viburnum, will have already developed the next spring’s flower buds. If you trim them in the winter, you will cut off those buds and lose a year of blossoms.

The best time to prune those bushes is after they have finished blooming, in late spring or early summer. That way, you can shape them without affecting the next year’s show of flowers.

However, for most other bushes, including roses, hydrangeas, and boxwoods, late winter is the ideal time to cut them back. The plants are fully dormant and so the chances of damaging them are minimal.

Can Trimming Bushes in the Winter Cause Any Plant Damages?

In extremely cold climates, pruning can damage bushes even when they are fully dormant. Don’t trim your bushes when nights fall below 20°F (-7°C). It’s best to wait until late winter when temperatures start to moderate a bit.

As well, very cold temperatures can cause branches to become brittle, leading to breakage if you are not careful when working with them.

What Time of Year Should You Trim Your Bushes

What’s the Best Way to Trim Bushes in the Winter?

When trimming bushes in winter, start by cutting out any broken, dead, or diseased branches.

Next, remove any branches that are growing inward, or crossing over another branch. If two branches are rubbing against each other, cut out the smaller one. Keep the center of the bush open to encourage good air circulation.

Then, trim back last year’s growth to neaten up the shape of the bush. Always cut just above a node to encourage bushy growth.

Usually, you should never cut back more than 1/3 of the size of the bush in any given year, whether that’s an overall trim, or removing branches back to the main stem or trunk.

However, vigorous growers like dogwood, spirea, and lilacs can be hard pruned in late winter. This means cutting the entire shrub back to 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) above the ground. These bushes will quickly grow back with fresh, healthy growth.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how and when to trim bushes is an important way to keep your home’s landscaping looking its best year after year. It’s vital to be patient and wait for late winter to maintain healthy, attractive bushes that will enhance your property.

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