Masterful Gardening

by Bea WalkerMy Nassau Sun Logo

Best time of year to prune? It depends

Got your pruning saw, your pruning shears, tree trimmer and a pair of gloves? Then let’s go cut something! Whoa, not so fast!

It’s October, and while our summer gardens are past their prime, there’s still some work to do in our yards. And one of the most important fall and winter tasks is pruning trees and shrubs. But, should you prune everything? How much should you prune?

First off, remember some of the main reasons for pruning: to improve the structure and appearance of the tree; remove dead or dying limbs; and increase fruit or flowering.

To ensure the health of trees and shrubs, it is always appropriate to prune dead, weak, diseased, insect-infested or damaged wood. Any branches crossing or rubbing together can be pruned any time of year. It’s better to do this when the branches are less than 2 inches in diameter as this reduces the tree’s exposure to fungi and decay.

For shrubs that have become “leggy,” the best pruning cuts are thinning cuts, which will slowly bring your shrub back into its natural shape. It may take several years to develop an appropriate shape. A tapered shape with a smaller top and broader bottom is preferable for best shrub health.

If you find that you are constantly pruning a shrub just to keep a specific height, it might be best to move the plant to another site and chose a more appropriate dwarf variety. Several trees and shrubs have dwarf varieties, such as crape myrtle, which comes in heights of 3 feet to 40 feet. Choosing the right plant for the right place can save you and the plant a great deal of aggravation.
What time of year to prune depends on the plant.

Deciduous plants may be pruned late in their dormant season, for example, oaks and crape myrtles. However, azaleas, hydrangea, jasmine and camellia should be pruned immediately after flowering has stopped.

Plants which are late-flowering and fruiting varieties should be pruned in the late winter or early spring.


Branches crossing or rubbing together can be pruned any time of year, but it is best to do this when the branches are less than 2-inches in diameter.


Master Gardener volunteers are trained by County Horticultural Extension agents and are required to serve 75 volunteer hours in year one of their accreditation and 50 volunteer hours annually in all subsequent years to maintain their certification.

Nassau County master gardeners serve under the direction of Rebecca L. Jordi, UF/IFAS Nassau County Horticultural Extension Agent. For information on the master gardener program and application requirements, contact Jordi at 548-1116 or



Bea Walker

Bea Walker lives in Fernandina Beach. She has lived in Nassau County for seven years and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.