How to prune and cut back plants in the winter
Once the leaves have fallen from deciduous shrubs and trees it is so much easier to see if their structure has become too congested. It is also a lot easier to spot :
Dead, Diseased and Damaged branches or stems.
It is these three D’s that are the target for my secateurs or loppers at this time of year. As long as the garden isn’t snow bound or under the influence of heavy frost, you can do some useful pruning. I’m not an enthusiastic follower of all the health and safety rules but when it comes to a sizeable tree I’d always suggest leaving any pruning whether basic or more complex like crown lifting, crown thinning or similar work to the specialists !
But with shrubs and trees which are of a suitable size this is a good time to remove some of that no-good stuff, the three D’s. Even if it is a plant which needs to be pruned at a certain time of year to encourage flowering or fruiting, if the wood is already dead it may as well come out now, if it is diseased it needs to be removed ASAP to stop its problem spreading….and whilst you’re at it some of that excessive growth may as well come out too.
How to Prune
Start by removing anything that’s definitely dead (peel back a bit of bark and if it is dry and/or brown beneath then chances are it is past it!) As you do this check out other stems and branches and look for those which have been damaged eg by pests such as rabbits or deer, or been chaffed by adjacent branches or tree ties, supports etc. These too should come out. Then remove any which are showing signs of canker, heavy scale infestation or similar problems. Each time try to prune back to a healthy, outward-facing bud or stem/branch as this means that replacement growth will be growing is a useful direction and not inwards to cause more congestion in the future.