Pruning evergreen trees | Living the Country Life

Pruning evergreen trees

It isn’t often that an evergreen tree needs pruning, but sometimes a haircut is necessary

The best time for pruning evergreen trees is early spring through mid-April, although you can remove dead, diseased, or broken branches anytime. A couple of factors on whether or not to prune an evergreen tree is where it’s at in the landscape, such as if it’s close to a building or just getting too big for its location. You might also need to remove individual branches to help maintain the tree’s natural outline.

Hank Stelzer is an Extension forester at the University of Missouri. He says how you prune depends on the type of evergreen tree.
"If it’s like the pyramidal junipers, and that includes like your arborvitae, you can prune up to about 20%. The caution you need to have is you don’t want to cut back into what they call the “dead zone”, so the brown," says Stelzer. "You’ve got to have green foliage, it must remain on any of the branches you prune so those buds and branches will take off."

Pruning takes away but it can also help the tree produce new growth. Within the next month or two, long-needled evergreens such as pines will start to produce new shoots called candles. Pinching back the candles will help maintain the shape of the tree and fill it out.

"Before the needles elongate, you’ll have this anywhere from 4”-8” candle and you’ll see the needles wanting to poke through. That’s the stage you want to take about half of that candle length off. You’re taking off that terminal bud and it’ll force lateral buds to form on that lower part of the candle," says Stelzer. "That’ll give them plenty of time to elongate and set bud, and you’ll get that branchiness."

Should you trim off the lower branches? Unless you need access to the area under the tree, Stelzer doesn’t recommend it. It doesn’t hurt the tree but the lower limbs add to its strength, and support the upper limbs when there’s severe weather or heavy snow.  

Find more tips for pruning evergreens

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