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Now that the latest arctic blast has moved out of here, it's a great time to prune certain trees and shrubs in the Oklahoma landscape. Pruning is a way to help ensure long term health of the tree and remove branches that could be hazardous. The ideal time to prune is late winter just before growth begins. Pruning is an injury to the plant and when done at this time, the cut seals over quickly with the onset of rapid spring growth. With this being said, pruning can be done anytime of the year, but often the plant will not heal as quickly.

Pruning in winter—during the dormant season—invigorates many trees and shrubs because it leaves the plants with extra root and energy reserves that will support new growth on the remaining branches. Dormant-season pruning is good for you, too, because you can see the branches more clearly without leaves in the way. You can shape the tree or shrub for good future growth. And it gives you a reason to go outside on mild winter days, as many of us are ready to do after this cold winter. Do not prune spring blooming shrubs such as azaleas, as you'll be removing many of the flower buds and you will not have a nice colorful display this spring. However, I've seen some dead and damaged azaleas due to the dry winter, so they may not look to hot anyway.

Here are some tips for pruning you trees and shrubs:

  • Prune on a mild, dry day.
  • First prune out the dead and diseased branches.
  • Then remove the overgrown and smaller branches to increase light and air at the crown of the tree or shrub.
  • In general, your goal is to keep the branches that develp or maintain the structure of the tree.
  • Cut branches at the node, the point at which one branch or trig attatches to another.
  • Use clean, sharp tools for a clean cut.

One common shrub in Tulsa that is over-pruned in my opinion are crape mrytles. They are summer flowering shrubs, that if left un-pruned, can grow to 30' high or more. Down in the southern states, where they are never harmed by cold temperatures, they often are found this large….and grow more like a tree. In Tulsa, we are on the northern fringe of their growing area, so sometimes during cold winters, they can be damaged or even killed. And with this winter, don't be surprised to experience that. Many homeowners, and maintenance companies, cut them back every winter. When that is done every year, and at the same place on the shrub, this is what develops. You have a large bottom trunk, with only a few flowering stems shooting out later on in summer. I think it looks rather odd myself.

So unless they are planted next to a home, or in an area where they cannot be allowed to grow higher, I'd just let them grow as high as they can. And then if some of the plant does not make it out of winter, they can be pruned back then.

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