UC Master Gardeners: Pruning right now can be the kindest cuts of all

Q: My neighbor has been pruning the plants in her yard and says that I should be doing the same. Is this true, and, if so, why?

— Nancy Jackson, San Luis Obispo

A: Your neighbor is mostly right. For many types of plants, winter is a good time to prune, but that isn’t the case for all plants. When determining whether to prune or not to prune, it is important to take into account the specific needs of the various plants in your garden.

January and February are the best time to prune roses and most fruit and nut trees while they are dormant. Berries and grapes, too, should be pruned before they bud. Summer blooming shrubs and fuchsias benefit from pruning at this time. Apricots, however, should not be pruned until after the fruiting season, when the chance of rain is minimal. Citrus and avocado generally need minimal pruning, and the appropriate timing varies.

When approaching your garden with pruners in hand, keep in mind some general principles:

  • Know the age and type of plant, and where fruit or flowers form.
  • Have a specific purpose and plan in mind for each plant before you begin to prune.
  • Open the center of the plant for light to penetrate the interior branches.
  • Remove any dead, diseased or crossing interfering branches.
  • Make sharp, clean cuts to avoid damage and introduction of disease.

There are two basic types of pruning cuts: Thinning is the removal of an entire shoot or limb where it originates. Heading is the removal of part of a branch.

Focus on safety and proper maintenance of equipment. The essential tools are a pair of hand pruning shears, lopping shears and a folding or fixed-handled pruning saw.

A tripod orchard ladder provides the greatest safety when working with tall plants and trees.

Before you head outdoors with your pruners and begin chopping, consider calling the Master Gardeners and/or attending one of the many pruning workshops offered locally at this time of year.

A wealth of information regarding fruit trees can be found at You will find that proper pruning can greatly enhance the health, vigor and appearance of your plants.