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LET’S TALK GARDENING – Fall is a Pruning-Free Season

By Doug Hensel
Doug's Blog

FALL IS NOT THE SEASON TO BE DOING RANDOM PRUNING ON OUR SHRUBS AND TREES. YOU COULD BE DOING MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

Fall is a favorite time for most of us to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and get out into our gardens. After a hot summer, we are all eager to get into our gardens to start the fall cleanup projects. We pull out the old and tired summer annuals that are on their last legs, we like to rake up the garden beds, pull weeds, and rejuvenate our lawns. While we are in this mood, it is awfully tempting to get out our pruners and want to cut back on our shrubs and trees—DON’T!!!

Fall is not the time of year to be doing any pruning. I keep A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL PRUNING, SHRUB PRUNING CALENDAR on my desk for reference just to verify my information on pruning. With this knowledge, I can emphatically state that FALL IS A PRUNING-FREE SEASON!! I keep plenty of copies handy as handouts.

I have been getting questions on pruning daily now with fall approaching soon and homeowners wanting to get all their landscape beds rejuvenated for fall and winter. Here are a number of good, logical reasons why to be cautious with pruning this time of year:

  1. Pruning can alert a plant to put out new growth. You don’t want this happening in the fall. Shrubs and trees need to go dormant and not be pushing out tender new growth. This tender new growth will be damaged with the upcoming frost and colder temperatures. Keep in mind that our average first frost of the fall is around October 20 in our area. This frost could damage tender, new growth on plants.
  2. Plants in the fall are devoting their energy downward—they are gathering energy in their root system so they are able to push out new growth next spring. This means that plants are less likely to quickly repair the pruning cuts you make, which can lead to possible pest and disease problems down the road.
  3. We do not know what kind of winter we could have this year. Many times our winters here in Central Virginia can cause some dieback on many of our plants. It is much easier to prune next year once evidence of such damage becomes clear.

Bottom line: HOLD OFF ON PRUNING FOR NOW. According to A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL PRUNING, November opens up the pruning season on some of our plants. Matter of fact, many of us will do some judicious pruning on our evergreens in order to use these branches for holiday decorating, such as with boxwoods, hollies, junipers, cypress, nandinas, and more.

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33 thoughts on “LET’S TALK GARDENING – Fall is a Pruning-Free Season

  1. Maureen,
    I have it here at the garden center. Stop by, ask for me, and I will get you a copy. Thank you for this message, Doug

  2. I want to keep my 3-year old Ottolueken laurels on the small side. They had huge growing spurt this summer. Tips for pruning in early November?

  3. Fala,
    Good Afternoon.
    My advice: Please hold off on pruning right now. We are having a relatively warm fall & October. Pruning now could encourage the laurel to put out new growth. You do not want this to happen now. And, most evergreen plants need their leaves to make it through the winter. I would suggest holding off on pruning until the end of February or the first of March. Doug

  4. Is it normal for my boxwoods to lose some leaves this time of year? Some are turning yellow then falling off.

  5. Thanks Doug! Is the pruning guide available at all the Meadows Farms nurseries in the DC area, or only at the Richmond, VA one?

  6. Ugh. My yard guy completely ignored pruning the knockout rose bushes this summer and they’re growing over the sidewalk, nearly blocking it. When is it ok to cut them back (even a little)? Thank you!

  7. Brenda,
    I am not sure if they will have this guide. Let’s do this… send me an email message and include your mailing address. Then I will send one to you. Doug

  8. Lesley,
    Good Morning.
    The best time to prune both roses and crape myrtles will be during the winter months when the plants are bare of any leaves and are completely dormant.Doug

  9. Fran,
    Good Morning.
    The best time to prune a fig tree is during the winter months. This is when the tree is dormant. Doug

  10. Debbie,
    Good Morning.
    Not sure where you live but I would suggest taking some cuttings to your local garden center and let a horticulturist look at the cuttings. Multiple causes could be creating the yellow leaves. If you live near by the Great Big Greenhouse then bring me some cuttings. Doug

  11. Richard,
    Good Morning. I am not 100% sure if some of the other Meadows Farms garden centers have this pruning guide that is put our by the Virginia Cooperative Extension. You may want to contact your local county agriculture extension services and ask for this guide. Doug

  12. Diane,
    Good Morning. The best time to prune back your Knock Out roses is not now but the proper time is coming. Wait for all the leaves to fall. So, December, January, or February are the months to cut back your roses. Doug

  13. Serena,
    Good Morning.
    Best time is coming soon. Best time is between the months of December thru February – when the bush is completely dormant with no leaves. You can cut them back as much as possible since butterfly bushes bloom off of new growth that comes out in the spring. Doug

  14. Dear Doug,

    Your advice this morning was extremely handy given how much I want prune some of my plants right now. I will put my shears away until February and get them sharpened then to follow your advice. Would you please send me a copy of your guide to pruning. My address is:
    Chepi DiCalogero
    9712 Doulton Ct.
    Fairfax, VA. 22032

    Any and all advice booklets would be gratefully appreciated.

    Thanks to you and to Meadows Farms for all the great plants and advice.

    Chepi DiCalogero

  15. Chepi,
    Good Afternoon.
    Thank you. I have a copy of the pruning guide in the mail coming your way. Doug

  16. Nancy,
    Good Afternoon.
    I will be happy to send you a copy of the pruning guide. Send me your address and I will be happy to mail you a copy. Doug

  17. Hi Doug,
    Would you please send me your guide to pruning? My address is:
    Marie Aguirre-Gómez
    1295 Newkirk Court
    Vienna, VA 22182
    Any other booklets with suggestions would also be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you and MF for your great service.
    Best,
    Marie

  18. Doug, would love to get a copy of your pruning guide. Thanks for all your advice. Mailing address:

    1372 Hounslow Drive
    Manakin Sabot, Va 23103

  19. Wow!! Your advice is very very useful. And you just saved me lots of work in the coming days. I will stop by to get a copy of your Guide. I did have to trim 2 black knight butterfly bushes in early October that had grown up against the house – they were in the way of the housepainters! What problems did that create?

    Greta

  20. Doug what is your email address? I went to your blog and do not see it there. I would like to email you my address in order to request a mailing of the much needed infamous pruning guide. Thank you in advance.

  21. Greta,
    Good Morning.
    Glad you liked my blog. And, thank you for the nice compliments. Your Black Knight Buddleias will be fine for next year. After all the leaves fall – look at these shrubs one more time to see if you want to do any further pruning back. Doug

  22. Marie,
    I have one coming in the mail to you. Thank you for taking time to send me your message. Doug

  23. Love this website.
    With so many requests and questions about pruning, why not put your pruning guide online?
    Dj

  24. DJ,
    You are right. I will need to do this. I had no idea that this pruning guide would be so popular with so many readers. Take care, Doug

  25. Hello Doug, In during a survey of bushes & trees around my brother’s house; I noticed that a magnolia tree in the shady western corner has blossom buds forming.
    Forecast is the freeze is this week in Central VA. Do you feel that the tree will have a blooming season before Christmas? Do I let Mother Nature take her course? Then prune back the boughs in February.
    When I shop @ Big Nursery I want to pick up the pruning guide. Thank you for your blogs & seminars.
    Jane

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