Many homeowners know they should be caring for their trees by scheduling regular pruning to keep them healthy and thriving. But, there is sometimes confusion on when is the best time to prune trees.

Judging from the amount of calls our company gets in spring, most homeowners are thinking about their landscapes most actively at this time of year.

But, spring isn’t necessarily the only, or best, time to be planning for tree maintenance and pruning. It really depends on which region of the country you live in and what types of trees are in your landscape.

In this article we’ll explain what types of pruning should be happening during each season of the year.

What is Tree pruning?

Tree pruning is an essential part of tree care and maintenance. It involves the removing dead, diseased, or other problematic branches from a tree with a focus on promoting the overall health of the tree.

While many people only prune in reaction to damage or disease, regular clearing can prevent a variety of hazards and even encourage growth. The following are just a few ways tree pruning can benefit your property’s landscape:

  • maintain tree health
  • increase clearance
  • improve aesthetics
  • encourage fruit and flowers
  • save a storm damaged tree
  • monitor for disease

Read more about what is tree pruning and why it’s the secret to healthy trees.

best time to prune trees

Pruning through the seasons

Most light, routine pruning to remove weak, dead, or diseased limbs can be accomplished at any time during the year with little effect on the tree. However, the best time to prune trees is determined by various factors explained in each season below.


Some people misguidedly believe that tree pruning has the potential to harm trees during the winter. But, in reality, winter is when trees are dormant, so it can be one of the best times of the year to scheduling pruning.

Fatal tree diseases can easily be spread if trees and shrubs are pruned at the wrong time of the year. If you live in the eastern or central part of the US and have oak or elm trees on your property it’s important to know that these trees should only be pruned in the winter months when trees are dormant and insect activity is low to non-existent. Oak trees are susceptible to Oak Wilt and elms trees to Dutch Elm disease.

Additional benefits of winter pruning include:

  • Certified arborists can better evaluate the structure of trees
  • The tree work won’t be so hard on your landscape
  • More time for wounds and cuts to heal
  • Tree care companies are often less busy

Read more about why pruning trees in winter is a great idea. Even though many homeowners don’t think about scheduling pruning of their trees until spring, we recommend the winter as the ideal pruning time.


If you weren’t able to get your trees pruned during the winter, it’s perfectly okay to join the masses in the spring tree care rush. Our phones are always ringing off the hook this time of year. A certified arborist can evaluate your trees and advise you whether you need to wait until later in the season to schedule pruning and removal or if spring is the best time to prune trees.

If you’re growing fruit trees on your property you should give them extra attention in the late winter and early spring. All fruit trees should be pruned before the trees start to flower.

The wounds left by pruning cuts heal best if they happen before the rapid growth that occurs in spring. Heavy pruning of live tissue just after the spring growth flush should be avoided, especially on weak trees.


Most deciduous trees and shrubs can benefit from a light summer pruning. Pruning during summer is especially helpful on quick growing trees and shrubs by thinning them out to open up the canopy and increase air circulation. Ideally, heavier pruning should be performed when the tree is dormant, preferably in late winter before active growth begins.

Spring-flowering shrubs bloom on wood produced the year prior, so you should prune them after blooming. Late spring/early summer is an ideal time to prune for maximum blooms the following year. Find out the best time to prune shrubs with lists of each of the various categories.


In fall and winter trees enter into dormancy, which makes this a great time of year to schedule tree pruning and maintenance. The late fall season has similar conditions to the winter. Again, oaks and elms should not be pruned until after the first frost of fall when insect activity starts to diminish.

Summer-flowering shrubs bloom on new growth produced in the spring. Prune when dormant in the fall, winter, or very early spring. Find out the best time to prune shrubs with lists of each of the various categories.  

How Often To Prune Trees

Most pruning sought by homeowners is reactive tree pruning, sparked by the appearance of a dead branch or suspicion of disease. While hazard mitigation is certainly a good reason to prune a mature tree, most mature trees benefit from pruning every 3-5 years. A certified arborist can evaluate your trees during a free consultation and help you build out a plan for pruning and caring for your trees at every stage of growth.

Who Should Prune Your Trees?

As arborists who spend a lot of time out and about on peoples’ properties we’ve seen a lot of terrible tree pruning throughout the years. Most homeowners have no idea how to skillfully prune trees for optimal health and structure, or the best time to prune trees. That’s why we highly recommend consulting with an ISA certified arborist in your area for all of your tree care needs. We share exactly why that’s so important in this article.

If you live outside of our service area (Madison, WI) you can search for a certified arborist here.

If you live in the Madison, WI area you’re in luck because Eco Tree Company’s certified arborists offer tree pruning  in addition to other tree care services. With a passion for arboriculture, our professionals use research-based methods to keep your plants healthy. To get a quote, call us at (608) 609-8777 or contact us online.

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    Madison, WI 53713

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