There are a few reason why the time of year matters when trimming trees. In most cases, the winter months from November to March is the best time for trees because that is when the tree enters dormancy. This is the tree's resting period. Trimming trees too early can disrupt the tree from entering the dormancy period by promoting new growth.
Deciduous trees lose their leaves and waiting until all their leaves fall is a good indicator it's entering it's dormant period. Trees need every bit of nutrients from their leaves before dropping them. Trimming before new growth begins is helpful in making trees grow abundantly well in spring.
Pruning in late winter is beneficial in colder climates because it helps trees' wounds be exposed to the elements for a minimum amount of time before new growth begins. It also is easier to see the branches and make cuts without leaves, as well as branches being lighter when they fall on other landscape.
Another reason is that there is less likely an insect or fungus infestation during the winter months. Avoid trimming after new growth begins because this is also when birds are nesting and producing young.
Depending on when fruit and flowering trees produce, they should be trimmed after their production ends, which helps promote more production in the future. Flower trees benefit from deadheading old blossoms. A fruit tree with a good canopy that lets light filter through will produce better than a tree with dense branches.
Always trim a tree any time of the year if there is a danger of a branch falling. Also, a good rule of thumb is to not cut more than 30% of a tree at one time. Cut branches that rub together or that grow against the main trunk. New trees should not be pruned for the first year.
There are exceptions to the winter trimming rule. Here in Southern California, some subtropical trees can be trimmed all year around!
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