To prune or not to prune? It’s a valid question to ponder in the winter months, especially in a unique place like Southern California. Though winters here don’t typically get too harsh, native plants and transplants alike may benefit from some trimming. But before you give your trees and shrubs a major haircut, consider what you’re trimming and why. You’ll get your best results with some forethought and careful execution.
First, it helps to understand what pruning is and why it’s done. In general, pruning is a maintenance task that clears away dead material to make way for new growth. Well-executed pruning jobs typically focus on the dead, unhealthy or overgrown parts of the plant. In most cases, you should take care to avoid damaging healthy, life-sustaining parts such as roots, woody stems and trunks.
Things get more complicated when it comes to specifics because pruning needs vary from plant to plant. Some plants absolutely flourish in spring after a dramatic winter cut back. Others do best when given just a little trim to help maintain shape and size. Timing is another important variable. Some plants require pruning as soon as their leaves drop, while others need a little more time to enter dormancy before they reach the optimal pruning state.
What to Prune and When
If you aren’t sure whether your plant needs pruning or how much pruning you should perform, consult a knowledgable landscaper for advice. You can even hire someone to perform the task for you, which is helpful when you have a large volume of dormant plants to deal with.
These three common Southern California plants illustrate the subtle differences in good pruning work:
Grape vines: No matter what variety of grape you have, prune your vines back to the woody trunks once leaves drop, which can happen anywhere from late fall to mid-winter.
Agave: You’ll notice dramatic winter die-off after flowering. Once the flowers are dead, you can trim off all dead parts. This leaves room for the new sucker plants at the base to thrive.
Citrus trees: Be sparing with winter pruning for citrus; focus on shaping by pruning small branches that are no more than .5 inches in diameter. Do the bulk of your citrus pruning in late spring.