Experts commonly answer the question, “When is the best time to prune?” with “When you have clippers in your hand.”

But that’s not always the case. As summer wanes, internal clocks direct woody plants to begin countdown to leaf drop and winter dormancy. Pruning stimulates growth, so hold off any major pruning that might encourage tender new shoots that won’t have time to harden off before the deep freeze. You don’t want to step on the gas as your shrubs and trees are putting on the brakes. With super-hot tropical weather persisting so late, plants are as confused as we are. Hold off on fertilizer too.

But it’s a great time to take a hard look at the views from your windows and outdoor seating areas.

  • Do you feel closed in by trees or overgrown shrubs?
  • Would you enjoy a distant view or the sight of wild visitors crossing the yard?
  • Do wayward limbs detract from the natural grace of a tree
  • Are crossing branches crashing into each other?

Look not just at the trees but at the spaces between them too.

Identify limbs you could live without now, while there’s full foliage. Winter pruning is easier because you can see the structure and it’s a lot easier hauling leafless branches to the brush pile.

My friend Dana and I improved the view from her deck earlier this summer by removing a few lower limbs and lopping off some weird wayward branches. It really helps to have two sets of eyes, and directions from someone outside the tree when your head is inside all that greenery. Now she can see wild turkey moms herding their babies across the lawn, catch an occasional bobcat crossing and go inside when the neighborhood bear comes prowling for loose garbage cans.

For safety’s sake, we stuck to whatever I could cut with a nice sharp handsaw and reach with two feet (well, maybe one foot and one big toe) on the ground. It’s not perfect, but the rest will have to wait for a professional arborist.

before selective pruning

Before selective pruning

after selective pruning

After completion of pruning