I have received several calls as well as witnessed quite a bit of pruning of various trees over the past couple of weeks. We are still a little early to be heavily pruning fruit or ornamental trees. Most of the county has not received a hard frost yet. Because of this, many trees are not fully dormant despite the loss of leaves. After a hard frost (below 28 degrees), most trees will go dormant and will be ready to prune. The best months to prune are January and February. Pruning before a hard frost combined with a warm stretch can initiate fresh growth that will not have time to harden before winter hits. These small fresh growths can be hosts for diseases and insects after they die.
Crape myrtles are probably the most pruned and most often mis-pruned tree in Georgia. Every year these trees are pruned back all the way to the trunk in a method referred to by many as “Crape Murder”. These heavy pruning methods have been common-place for a long time but can take away from the true shape and beauty of these trees. Crape myrtles bloom on first year growth, making pruning a helpful practice but is not necessary for trees to bloom. It is important to not get carried away, pruning should be used to thin and train the canopy of the crape myrtle. If severe pruning is used to control size, dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties are available in a wide range of plants to control mature height.
For best pruning practices, prune in January or February, as well as prune in the proper location on the branch. Branches should be cut flush with the collar, not the trunk. The collar is where the tree will form its callous and wall off the wound to prevent damage to the tree. If too much branch is left, it will rot on the tree and harbor insects and infection; however, if the prune cut is made flush to the trunk, this exposes the main trunk to infection and insects, possibly severely compromising the tree. Using wound treatment on prune cuts has not shown to greatly improve resistance to insects or disease, but has been shown to slow down the formation of the callous by the tree and is therefore generally not recommended.
There are a variety of methods to shape trees during pruning, and this change based on the species of tree that you are working with. I encourage you to research the trees that you care for and learn the best methods to trimming them. There is a wealth of information available through the UGA Extension publication library at www.extension.uga.edu/publications.html . We are always here to help at the Banks County Extension office. Ways to contact us are to call us at (706) 677-6230, by email at email@example.com, or to come by the office at 413 Evans street, Homer, Ga.