January and February might not seem like the most obvious months for garden projects, but it’s the very best time of year to see to the health of your trees and plants. Good winter maintenance can put your yard on the path for a beautiful spring. Every step of the way, ezhome is here to help.
We sat down for a chat with ezhome landscape designer Samantha Bella to get her tips for winter yard care.
Q: If homeowners take on one project for their yard this month, what would you suggest?
Samantha: Winter is a great time to take care of your trees with proper pruning. That’s my #1 priority. During winter, trees are in their dormant period (yes, even here in California), and because they’re not engaged in active growth, they are more receptive to pruning. Our wet winter weather also helps to reduce stress on the trees, avoiding shock. By pruning your trees in winter, you’re not fighting against their natural cycle, but working with them. And on a practical note, fewer leaves allows you to see a tree’s structure better and make the proper cuts.
Q: Pruning 101. What is pruning?
Samantha: Seasonal pruning is an important process for the health, longevity, and aesthetics of your garden. Using proper equipment, pruning removes dead, damaged and diseased branches to allow for healthy new growth. It is especially beneficial during the winter months when the trees and shrubs are putting their energy and nutrients towards their root systems in preparation for spring blooms and foliage.
Q: What kind of trees are candidates for pruning?
Samantha: Really, all of them, but for different reasons. First, there are ornamental trees, flowering trees and fruiting trees. In their case, pruning is essential for best growth and productivity. Fruit trees in particular need to be pruned yearly to maintain the quality of the fruit.
Here we have some citrus trees that are “ever-bearing,” meaning they produce fruit throughout the year. Even though they don’t ever go dormant, it’s still possible to prune them in winter, and you still need to manage their growth.
Q: Do big shade trees get pruned too?
Samantha: Absolutely. Big trees can become dangerous if they aren’t pruned. Branches that are too close to your house, or your neighbor’s house, can block light and cause excess debris on the roof and in the gutters. And with big trees, it can be easier to identify potential hazards in winter when their limbs are bare.
Pruning is also important for the health of the tree. We might love a dense, lush tree, but allowing some openness is essential. If the center of the tree is too dense with vegetation, and debris is allowed to collect, that can lead to rot. Overly dense vegetation can also block the wind from safely passing through the branches, and that puts the tree at risk for being blown over by strong winds.
Q: What if I just want to let everything go natural?
Samantha: If you’ve ever taken a walk in the woods, you’ve seen how out of hand that could get! Your neighbors might not be pleased. Even more importantly, there are real safety concerns in a populated area. Branches can become hazardous, causing serious property damage or injury. And as we just talked about, it’s not good for the health of the tree.
Q: Is tree pruning something I can DIY, or do I need to hire a professional?
Samantha: You can do it yourself — but not without some serious study of plant biology. Of all the tasks in your yard, pruning trees isn’t for beginners. Even for small trees, making smart decisions about where to prune for best growth and productivity is essential to the health and longevity of the tree. Tools need to be kept clean to prevent spreading disease between trees. And for big trees, pruning can be a dangerous job. Anyone climbing up into a big tree needs to have proper safety equipment — and know how to use it. And then you’ll need a plan for how to manage all the debris. It piles up fast!
Q: Do I have to deal with every tree in my yard at the same time?
Samantha: No. With a lot of trees, pruning can be a big job, so not every tree in your yard needs to be pruned at once. A landscaping professional can help you make a plan for your property, identifying which trees need the most frequent pruning, and which can be put on a more occasional schedule.
Samantha’s #2 tip for winter gardening — Winter is for dreaming! This is the time to plan your best yard, and the time to get your big plantings done before the spring rush. Stay tuned for more on that…
About Samantha Bella, ezhome Landscape Designer — Raised in Kansas on five acres surrounded by wheat fields, Samantha grew up with a love of gardening and a fascination with the life of plants. She earned a B.S. in Landscape Design and Horticulture from Kansas State University, and then a Certificate in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley. Samantha is a Bay Friendly Qualified Landscaper and holds a CA state contractors license. She is currently smitten with the brilliantly colored variety of plants native to Australia and New Zealand that are low water use and thrive in the Bay Area. Just ask her about Kangaroo Paw.