JOLEEN DURHAM, MU Extension master gardener

As the weather cools, trees and shrubs grow dormant in the Ozarks beginning their resting period for the winter months. The autumn and winter months are a great time of year to prune trees and shrubs because they are not in an active growth stage.

It’s important to first remember that it is possible to cut off the flowers on next year’s spring blooming trees and shrubs if they are pruned now. Plants such as lilac and forsythia will not bloom as much in the spring if they are cut back now; they bloom on new growth which came in over the summer.

Pruning tools should be sharp in order to create clean cuts which will heal the best. Second, if any of the trees or shrubs being trimmed is diseased, the pruning tools should be disinfected after use on the diseased plant. Disinfection can be done by wiping down the tool with alcohol or bleach. Do not spread disease among healthy trees and shrubs!

The general rule of thumb is that a gardener should not remove in one cut what took more than one year to grow. However, there are times when large branches need to be removed due to disease or breakage.

Some gardeners feel the need to cover cuts on trees with some type of top dressing. These top dressings can actually prevent the cut wound from healing by keeping the wound most and maintaining an environment that seems hospitable to disease.

A good pruning cut will allow a woody plant to seal itself off and prevent infection. There is no need to add some type of wound closing top dressing or to “paint” the wound, as has been commonly done in the past.

When removing a branch next to the trunk of the tree, find the ridge of bark above the point of branch attachment. There is a natural “collar” that goes around where the branch is attached. Cut the branch just the ridge and collar. The ridge and collar will form a natural protection zone for the tree.

Trees have a natural ability to heal, or technically — for the damage to be overgrown and consumed by healthy tissue. As soon as a wound appears, the tree’s cells immediately begin dividing to release antimicrobial chemicals and new cells grow to seal the wound.

Take the opportunities of the cooling weather and the lack of leaves on the trees and shrubs to inspect them for damage that may need to be pruned out and to shape your trees and plants as needed.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at

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