In the horticultural tradition of old times, there was a belief that the most appropriate time to cut fruit trees and bushes, including ornamental plants and hedges, is winter, especially its end. What was the justification for such a recommendation? What are the advantages of winter pruning trees and shrubs?

When do Wounds from Pruning Trees and Shrubs “Bleed Less”?

Especially during the dormancy of plants. In winter the juices don’t circulate, so wounds “bleed less”. It was also believed that winter pruning is less harmful to the plants, because it makes it easier for them to heal their wounds quickly in spring, right during the first start of the juices. This quite drastic treatment was carried out in the winter period also because the trees and shrubs suffered less.

Nowadays, in the era of the cult of crop production, this kind of attitude of our ancestors seems incomprehensible. Often you even make fun of it. However, in the past, the sensitivity of people’s hearts was far greater and unnecessary pain was also avoided for plants. Nowadays, with subtle electronic measurements, we know that plants actually feel and receive, but also send out different signals. Our ancestors were right to believe that pruning trees can be a kind of ‘pain’ for plants.

Injuries Weaken the Plants

Nowadays, pruning of trees and shrubs in the spring, summer and early autumn, i.e. in full vegetation season or just after it, is promoted. Usually only the benefits of such treatments are cited. Rarely, or in fact, not at all, the possible negative effects are not mentioned. And undoubtedly such must occur. Summer cuts of plants are always against nature. This is because they hurt the living organism, in the period of its greatest vitality. And yet it certainly does not want to be damaged during this time. It is therefore a huge stress for the plant forcing it to fully mobilize its vital forces. The plant tries to heal the wounds as soon as possible. This effort weakens it very much.

Weakening – Signal for Pests

Weakness is always a kind of signal for pests and various pathogens, such as fungi, to attack such a plant more actively. Usually a weaker plant is much more attractive as a place to live for pathogens or to feed pests than an undamaged plant growing alongside. Such a phenomenon can be observed with a little patience in any garden. For example: Aphids always appear more abundantly on trees and shrubs that are heavily pruned. Even when this treatment is done in winter, i.e. during the period of natural dormancy than on trees and shrubs that are cut poorly. When additional pruning is carried out in summer, i.e. when the plants are more sensitive, the negative phenomena become even more visible and dangerous.

A Strong Cut of Trees and Shrubs Stimulates Fruiting

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Strong pruning of trees and shrubs from the point of view of the gardener has some advantages, because it usually results in stronger fruiting. Why? Well, a tree threatened with death (because that’s how it can, in human terms, take the cut) tries to give out as much offspring as possible, i.e. seeds in the fruit. On the other hand, such an action, carried out systematically, weakens plants and shortens their life span. Besides, it increases the susceptibility of plants to diseases and pests. Taking into account these relationships in a traditional ecological garden, pruning is limited to the necessary minimum and allows the trees to grow in a very natural way.

The Large Pine Weevil Should be a Warning

Systematic wounding and pruning or summer pruning of plants year after year has another dangerous dimension. It can promote the development of certain pest groups. We do not always know how to see such phenomena. However, it is very likely due to analogy to the situation in the forests. Both biological environments are subject to the same laws of nature. Well, in the forests, when still felling was carried out traditionally, i.e. mainly in winter, the pine beetle was a relatively harmless pest of freshly established forest crops, mainly of coniferous species.

The insect loved larch, although it also destroyed young beeches, birches and oaks. Since the so-called market economy began to apply and wood was harvested all year round, pruning down trees also in summer, pine weevil appears in mass. Why? It has been observed that insect larvae are much more willing and numerous to settle stumps and roots of trees coming from felling and other prunings made in summer than those coming from winter pruning. Can’t it really be similar in our gardens?

More Young Shoots, more Trouble

Summer pruning also makes the shrubs and trees release new, delicate shoots at a time when they would not normally do so. This way we harm the gardens, because:

  • the life and feeding periods of many insects are prolonged, and thus the number of insects (normally older leaves and shoots would be less affected by them).
  • young shoots sometimes create an environment conducive to the development of certain diseases, including fungi (fungi are more likely to attack and infest delicate tissue).

Conclusion from the above considerations: For the health of the garden it is better to make cuts in winter periods, as recommended by centuries-old tradition.

Pruning Trees and Shrubs in the Rhythm of the Moon

It should be added that in the old horticultural tradition, cultivated for centuries from antiquity until the turn of the 18th and 19th century. In the folk tradition this principle has actually survived until today – the belief that the best time to cut off, shorten branches and boughs is the the waning period of the moon.Nowadays, this rule is again commonly observed in natural and ecological gardening, indirectly also because of the desire to inflict less pain on trees and shrubs.  Of course, the influence of the Moon’s rhythm on the life of plants is secondary to the rhythm of the Sun which determines the seasons.

But there is no doubt – this is confirmed by several decades of practical observations of organic gardeners and farmers. It also significantly affects the vitality of plants and other living organisms. When we make the cut at the wrong time of the lunar rhythm, in the wrong squares, then we also more overload and weaken the plant organism. This makes them more likely to be attacked by pests and diseases. Conversely, when the cuts are made at the right time of the lunar rhythm, the danger decreases. So here we have a similar phenomenon as when pruning in summer, at the wrong time of the lunar rhythm. Of course, the negative effects are slightly less.

It is best to Cut from Full Moon to New Moon

The pruning of trees and shrubs is best done with the decreasing moon, i.e. from the full moon to the new moon in the so-called root and crop quarters. Additionally, it is best to cut before the new moon in the growing square, the closer to the new moon, the better. This rule also applies to hedge pruning. Then the threat from pests and diseases should be the least. When it comes to pruning lawns, it is best to carry out a new lawn cut in the leaf square if you want to strengthen the grass. Cut in the root and growing quadrant grows back slower. It strengthens and therefore protects the plant against pests also by sowing, planting and cultivating it according to the lunar rhythm.