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It seems like every plant that I come across has a different (and seemingly random) best time to prune. Is there some sort of generally rule that I could apply to any plant and have a pretty good idea when to prune.

I really don't want to have to identify and google every time I come across a new plant. Also, what are the consequences of pruning a plant at the wrong time?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

It really comes down to the type of tree eg Fruit, Deciduous, Evergreen, etc then the specific species as to when is (considered) the best time of year to prune...

The same is true for plants.

As a very general rule of thumb, prune in:

  • Dead of Winter.

  • Or Spring (exact time during Spring will depend on what it is you're pruning) through to early Summer.

Best to avoid mid to late Summer pruning, though there are exceptions to that case...

Never prune in the Autumn (Fall) or early Winter.

  • Exception to above point: Remove damaged or diseased limbs immediately (as soon as possible).
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Your Never sentence confuses me. Using standard definitions, late fall and early winter is December and January in the north. Using natural seasons, early winter is after dormancy has begun. In either case, I cannot think of any plants that are not prunable at those times. A few trees, like birches and maples, will bleed sap if pruned shortly after dormancy begins, but that's an annoyance to the gardener not a problem for the plant. Fall pruning before dormancy is a bad idea, but isn't Never a bit strong? A damaged plant needs corrective pruning promptly regardless of the season. –  Eric Nitardy Oct 17 '11 at 18:45
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@Eric I don't think Never is too strong when we're talking "a very general rule of thumb". Rightly or wrongly I was doing my best to answer the question been asked ("general rule of thumb"). I totally agree, damaged (and diseased) material should be removed immediately, a search here on SE will show I have stated such on more than one occasion... Again rightly or wrongly I was deliberately keeping my answer very! general, seeing as the question being asked is also very! general... –  Mike Perry Oct 17 '11 at 19:00

It is one of those confusing things for a beginner - and you don't want to kill the plant. However, in most cases I don't think it is too critical. You might want to time pruning to induce flowers (eg. roses), or to avoid the chances of disease (eg. trees heal better at particular times of the year) - those would require particular timings but aren't critical to-the-week.

Also if you want to use the prunings for something. I've pruned our young peach three times now - it doesn't seem to care when I do it, but cuttings from the prunings do much better if they are cut in spring just before the leaf buds come out.

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-1 - good for Texas, maybe, but not for anyplace with significant cold. Many plants (in my experience, especially broadleaf evergreens, blueberries, and roses) die back at least a little most winters. –  Ed Staub Oct 14 '11 at 23:55
    
I suppose I ought to spell out the rest... in a bad winter, with a plant with problems already, pruning early can kill it. I very nearly did in a rose that way before I learned better. –  Ed Staub Oct 15 '11 at 19:15
    
The other two answers specifically recommend pruning in winter, whilst my answer is more general...? –  winwaed Oct 15 '11 at 21:40
    
@EdStaub :"Many plants (in my experience, especially broadleaf evergreens, blueberries, and roses) die back at least a little most winters." Hmm? My experience growing woodies in Minnesota, which is colder than New Hampshire, does not bear this out. Marginally hardy plants will die back during the winter and are best pruned after spring dormancy has just broken so that one can distinguish the dead from the living branches. In USDA zone 4, all garden roses, many shrub roses, highbush blueberries, and almost all broadleaf evergreens are marginally hardy. These are, then, special cases. –  Eric Nitardy Oct 17 '11 at 19:37
    
@Eric, I'm confused... you said your experience doesn't bear out the dieback concern, then the rest of your comment reiterates it. What did I miss? Also, here at least, temperature is only one factor in dieback - others include winter drought and late-winter thaws. A cold winter with good snow-cover isn't usually a problem without something else going on. –  Ed Staub Oct 17 '11 at 19:54

Rule of thumb: prune heavily in winter/spring before growth starts. If you prune lightly in late summer/autumn, only remove green (not wooden) parts.

So much for rule of thumb. There's a lot of variation depending on the actual plants, location, potting, and climate. I prune my indoor chilis whenever they get too big and I can do so without cutting off the harvest, and they seem to do well.

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