Photo by Jessica Walliser
My holiday decorations often involve lots of evergreens. I use pine boughs and boxwood garlands, juniper wreaths and holly sprigs to spruce up our winter festivities. Although I’ve purchased cut evergreen decorations from our local garden center more often than not, I sometimes harvest my own by pruning the evergreens around our property.
Where we live and in most other parts of the country, both evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs are in a dormant state this time of year, meaning they’re not in a period of active growth. Dormant pruning for evergreens and certain deciduous trees usually takes place in late winter, just before active spring growth occurs, but right now is a fine time to do some maintenance evergreen pruning, especially if you’d like to use the branches for the holidays. As a matter of fact, you’re doing your evergreens a small favor by pruning them on a yearly basis like this. Minor pruning of evergreens should take place annually to keep them from growing too large and requiring more drastic pruning techniques down the line.
Evergreens, in general, don’t require a lot of pruning, so a light annual trimming just before the holidays can become an important part of the maintenance routine for these plants. Keep in mind, though, that not all evergreens respond the same way to pruning. Spruces and firs are terrific candidates for pre-holiday pruning, as once the terminal portion of a branch is removed, the lateral (or side) buds will sprout in the spring, covering the pruned area with new growth. Pines, on the other hand, are poor candidates for any pruning. This is because if you remove the stem tips, you’ll eventually end up with nothing but dead stubs. Pines do not have lateral buds and no new growth will fill in the gap.
Arborvitae, holly, junipers, boxwood, yews and most other non-flowering evergreen shrubs can be pruned now, as well, and most tolerate fairly heavy pruning and even shearing—though I never recommend turning any of them into “meatballs” by shearing them into oblivion. They’ll pump out plenty of new growth come spring.
Here are a few more tips for proper pre-holiday evergreen pruning:
- Never remove the central leader of any tree (unless there are two of them, in which case you can remove the weakest). This is known as “topping” and is detrimental to the strength and shape of a tree.
- Do not prune broad-leaved flowering evergreens, like rhododendrons and azaleas, this time of year. Doing so will remove the flower buds for the coming year.
- Use a clean, sharp pair of pruners to judiciously remove evergreen branches by following the tip of the stem down into the shrub and snipping the branch off just above where it joins another branch. Clean the clippers with a 10-percent bleach solution when moving to a new plant to stave of the spread of disease.
- Never remove more than one-third of the total height and volume of a tree or shrub in any single pruning.