pruning in winter conditions

6 Plants to Prune in Winter

Many larger plants benefit from pruning after flowering but some need special care and attention during the “off” season. The key to winter pruning is to look first, clip second.


A majority of our loving gaze is reserved for summertime, so winter’s nakedness can render our most beloved plants near strangers.


Reacquaint yourself with your bush, tree or perennial. Look at it from afar, squint, look at it from the side and note anything that seems lopsided. Get down on your knees and look up from under the tree. You’re looking for crowded areas, oversize branches and dead wood.


Once you’ve made a thorough assessment, clean your pruning shears or hand-pruners with isopropyl alcohol and get to work!



Vaccinium spp.

Focus energy on newly planted blueberries’ root structure by pinching off flowers during their first spring and summer. Mature plants can be pruned in late winter when swollen fruit buds are distinguishable from growth buds. Clipping fruit buds results in a smaller harvest, but considerably larger berries.

GROWING GUIDE: The ideal shape of a blueberry is open-centered and vase-like. Cut back branches growing into the bush or along the ground—up to ¼ of the bush annually. Blueberry branches produce fruit for about four years, after which they should be cut back completely to make space for new growth.

maples in winter


Acer palmatum

Like any Acer, upright-growing Japanese maples bleed sticky sap. Avoid pruning in spring and causing weeping wounds which often spell disaster for trees. While Japanese maples often bounce back from accidental over-pruning, winter is the best time to address unwanted growth.

GROWING GUIDE: The best time to prune is while the tree is dormant, before the sap begins to rise and before leaves are on the tree. Cut out any dead or grey branches with no buds and clip the base of branches that cross or rub against each other. Be sure to never remove more than 1/5 of a maple’s crown. To do otherwise can spur unwanted and unsightly growth.

raspberries in frost


Rubus idaeus

Raspberries produce fruit on one year-old canes, after which the old cane won't re-bloom. It’s best to trim previously fruited canes to the ground after harvesting berries and provide support for new, young growth with garden twine or a trellis. However, late-winter is the best time to prune raspberry canes, even if you did—or didn't—prune in summer.

GROWING GUIDE: Trim dead or weak canes to the ground, leaving the strongest around six inches of each other. Prune off the tips of any damaged canes and pay close attention as the tips are the most fruitful part of the plant because the buds are more closely spaced there.

pears on bare branches


Malus sylvestris var. domestica & Pyrus communis

Higher yields and larger fruit are the goals when pruning pear and apple trees. And it’s easy to encourage both with a little late-winter trimming. The exceptions are tip-bearing fruit trees. If fruit grows at the end of—not along—the tree’s branches, refrain from tip-pruning.

GROWING GUIDE: First, clear out dead or damaged branches or those that rub, cross or crowd others. Then prune off old spurs and weak spur systems while thinning to prevent overcrowding. Lastly, trim back the outermost branches of the tree by 1/3 to encourage robust growth.

forsythia blooms


Forsythia spp.

One of the earliest blooming shrubs, forsythia heralds spring with a splash of flowered branches. From buttery yellow to deepest gold, skinny stems burst out in every direction. While light pruning is okay after blooming, big renovations should wait until winter.

GROWING GUIDE: Once all the leaves have fallen, prune dead or damaged wood. Forsythia prefers to flower on mature branches, so remove a few of the oldest, heaviest branches every year to make room for blooms.

roses covered in frost


Rosa hybrida

Hybrid tea roses need to be pruned in late winter, to roughly a foot above the ground. While this seems drastic, it ensures they don’t become leggy and bare. Roses reward heavy pruning with strong new growth.

GROWING GUIDE: The ideal shape for a hybrid tea rose bush is open-centered and vase-like. Prune out any branches that grow inward. Cut down old wood until you see healthy white pith and leave an airy vase-shaped structure to ensure strong, healthy growth.