Can I Prune My Trees In The Winter?

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While the best time for pruning may depend on the tree species, the most overlooked time for pruning is winter.  A frequent question asked of our team of Certified Arborists is, “When is the best time to prune?”  The simple answer is that trees can be pruned any time of the year, as long as they are pruned correctly and no more than 25 percent of the tree’s canopy is removed.  But winter pruning might be the most opportune time with many trees.  For deciduous trees, those that drop their leaves in the fall, winter reveals the full structure of the trunk and branches, exposing crossed or rubbing limbs.

Sometimes, homeowners delay pruning on deciduous trees until spring or summer, when it is easy to see any deadwood that needs to be removed.  While that seems logical, our climbers are highly skilled at identifying deadwood during the dormant season, and can remove it efficiently.

Winter pruning can have another important advantage, in that we can usually schedule the work much quicker.  Our production crews work year-round, and are available to prune throughout the winter months.  We appreciate the opportunity to care for your trees, and your patience when demand is such that we are scheduling weeks out.  Winter pruning may provide you the opportunity to have the experts your trees deserve, without the wait.

For over 30 years, Paul Bunyan's Tree Service has been providing quality tree care.  While the scope of services we provide is broad, pruning is the service most frequently requested.  Pruning services can range from simply providing minimum height clearances above streets, sidewalks, and alleys to meet city ordinances, to extensive end weight reduction to reduce the likelihood of structural failure or extensive storm damage in majestic old trees.


Sleet, Snow, and Freezing Rain....OH MY!!!

It is the time of year when all good arborists start to worry about ice and snow damage to our trees.

The weather events of the past week justify those concerns.  Often times, we are so excited to actually get a little snow, we overlook the potential damage that can occur.  The dramatic change to a little snow is welcome, until it just keeps coming down.  Joy quickly turns to fear as your White Oak snaps a limb—and it falls on your favorite holly.  If you were a tree, your biggest concern beyond the effects of humans, is the effects of Mother Nature.

If you only have deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves, you may think you have no worries.  Enough ice can buildup on limbs without foliage to cause breakage.  A half-inch of ice on a limb will dramatically increase the weight load on limbs, trunks, and roots, leading to structural failure.

Although we had great fall color and warm fall weather, the mild weather slowed the drop of the leaves.  As a result, trees that did not lose their leaves have more surface area for the ice or snow to buildup, increasing the odds of breakage.  Although the tree is dormant, it is much more susceptible to damage.

Sleet, following cold rain, is also a problem because the sleet sticks to wet limbs and foliage causing the rain to freeze.  If you already have snow buildup on limbs and leaves, the sleet adds to the weight.

The best defense against ice and snow damage is to work diligently now to minimize any future impact.  Extremely severe weather can cause the loss of most, if not all, trees in an area, regardless of any efforts to reduce the damage before it occurred.  However, damage from less severe weather can be lessened by inspecting trees for weak branching habit that is likely to fail.  In some cases, weak areas can be reinforced with cables or bracing rods.  Ideally, poor branching structures—tight “V” shaped forks or attachments, should be removed when the tree is small.  Doing so eliminates the risk of that fork splitting as the tree matures.

Beyond resolving weak branching habit, longer limbs in trees that tend to have broad, spreading canopies, should have the end weight reduced to lessen the surface area exposed to ice, snow, sleet, or high winds.  Professional tree climbers are trained to climb out to the ends of the limbs to reduce the weight.

Arborists also consider the strength of the wood for each species of tree when determining corrective actions for structural deficiencies.  An oak will typically have strong wood, whereas a maple will be weaker wooded and more likely to break.

Ice, sleet, and snow buildup can cause tree limbs to bow to a great degree without breaking.  The affected branches will return to their previous position once the ice and snow melts.  In some situations, the limb can contain internal cracks that are difficult to see, or the vascular system is damaged to the point that it permanently retains a bent shape.

Once you have an ice or snow problem, little can be done until the weight load melts.  Low limbs on larger trees or smaller ornamental trees can sometimes be braced with wood or other materials.  However, doing so can put someone at great risk should the tree or limb fail during the process of propping it up.

Once the severe weather event is over, standard tree care practices should begin.  This includes removing broken and damaged limbs by making proper pruning cuts, evaluating any splits or cracks in trunks or branches, inspecting and adjusting any cables or bracing rods on mature trees, and adjusting staking hardware on newly planted trees.

The snow and ice can be beautiful, when it comes to the risk it may present to your trees, the adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” applies.

If your trees have suffered damage from the recent storm events and you need one of the Certified Arborist at Paul Bunyan's Tree Service to assess the damage, contact our office by phone or by completing a service request on our website.  Our arborists can also assist you by developing a specific pruning program for your trees that will reduce the likelihood of ice or snow damage in the future.





General Tree Care Questions

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Recent storms damaged my trees.  What do I do?

Summer and winter storms can cause severe damage and tremendous stress to your trees.  Obviously, downed trees should be removed.  What about other damage to your trees?  What should you do?

Minor damage, small branches of the tree being broken, usually results in little or no permanent injury to the tree.  Crown cleaning to remove broken twigs and branches is all that's required to restore a pleasing shape.

However, more severe damage; large broken branches, splitting or cracking of the trunk, and split crotches can spell disaster for the tree, person, or property.  These situations require a professional. 

At Paul Bunyan we take the time and effort to save a tree only if the tree will still be healthy, attactive, and of value to the property after the repairs.  If the tree will be vulnerable to additional damage from future storms given its brittle wood and/or branch structure, we may recommend removal.

Some of the factors to consider when determining if a tree is worth saving:

  • Age
  • Vigor
  • Species
  • Value it adds to the property
  • Sentimental value

If a decision is made to remove the tree, remove it as soon as possible.  As wood decays it becomes less structural sound and may require specialized equipment to safely remove the tree, thus adding cost.


How do I know my trees will be pruned properly?

Pruning is more than just sawing off limbs.   Proper pruning is an art based on scientific principles of plant physiology.  At its basic level, pruning trees involves removing dead or structurally weak and damaged limbs which will improve a tree's health and reduce chances of limb failures which can cause personal or property damage.

Professional arborist's have the ability to make trees safer and more attractive by pruning live growth as well.  Proper pruning improves plant health, repairs damage, encourages growth, can increase flower and fruit production, and adds aesthetic appeal.  Pruning at the right time and in the proper manner is essential, since improper pruning can easily kill a tree.

Ask your tree care professional is they pruning according to the American National Standards Institute standard for tree pruning, called the ANSI A300.  This standard requires the recommended use of certain tools, cutting techniques, and pruning methods be followed, and sets the standard definitions for terms the arborist will use when writing your estimate.  Properly written estimates will be in accordance with ANSI A300 standards.  ANSI A300 also sets guidelines for basic pruning practices that should be followed.

If your arborist is adhering to the ANSI A300 pruning standard, they:

  • will not top or lion's tail trees
  • will not use wound paint
  • will not make heading cuts
  • will not leave branch stubs
  • will not cut off the branch collar
  • will not remove more than 25% of the total tree foliage in a year
  • will not damage other parts of the tree during pruning (no climbing grafs for pruning)
  • will not prune without good reason

At Paul Bunyan's Tree Service, we adhere to the highest industry principles including those set by the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association, and the ANSI A300 standards.  Contact us for all your proper pruning needs.     


Once trees become established don’t they basically take care of themselves?

While trees growing in the forest and other natural areas can basically take care of themselves, those growing in cities and suburbs need help staying healthy and beautiful. They contend with air pollution, road salt, confined roots, trunk damage, compacted or poor quality soils, improper pruning and other stresses. Your trees and shrubs may benefit from pruning, mulching, irrigating, soil management or other TLC to thrive.

Your trees and shrubs are valuable, adding both to the value of your property and the quality of your life. To live long and healthy lives, they need proper care.


Our landscaper says they do tree care. Can’t we just have them do it?

If you need heart surgery, would you go to your family doctor or a Cardiologist? So why have a lawn company care for your woody plants?  We're trained specialist in the care of your trees and shrubs. When you work with Paul Bunyan’s Tree Service, you benefit from having trained, educated and certified professionals caring for your trees. Our staff of Certified Arborists endeavor to follow the most progressive standards and guidelines in the tree care industry. We're also insured to protect you and our workers.


P. Kelley, Roanoke, VA

I contacted Paul Bunyan via their website and promptly got a call back asking when they could come by and give me as estimate. Lane arrived on the...

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