When is the Best Time to Trim a Tree?

Nov 2, 2020

As we head toward winter, you’ll probably want to take a close look at the health and appearance of our trees and start to think about trimming. It’s important to know when to trim a tree, because of all the benefits it provides. 

Generally, it’s best to trim in the late fall or winter, but that depends a lot on your situation.

Why Are You Trimming Your Tree?

Purpose matters. If your trees have weak or damaged branches, either from disease, storms, or some other factor, you should remove them right away regardless of the season — that’s called pruning. 

If you’re trimming your tree to encourage new growth or improve its structure, it’s generally best to do so in the fall or winter. That’s true for a few different reasons:

  • The tree is bare, so it’s easier to determine the tree’s structure, and you’ll be aware of issues like branches rubbing together.
  • The cold means the tree will heal faster and be ready to grow again in the spring.
  • Less sap will flow, and you can avoid attracting harmful pests that are common in warmer months. 

Don’t Remove More Than 25% of a Tree

Whenever you trim, keep in mind that you should never trim more than 25% of a tree’s live wood in any season. That means that if you have to remove a large limb that makes up a significant portion of your tree’s tissue, you should avoid trimming until the next year.

The Kind of Tree Matters

Not all kinds of trees grow the same way. While late fall through winter is a good rule of thumb, it doesn’t apply to all varieties. Here are some trees with special considerations:


Avoid trimming oak trees between February and July. This is oak wilt season, and trimming increases the risk that your tree will contract the disease.


Evergreens should be pruned during their dormant period in the spring, from around March to May. Evergreens tend to be trickier than deciduous trees. You need to make sure that you only trim branches with needles that have not yet unfolded. It’s easy to mess up, and if you cut back a branch with needles that have unfolded, you’ll end up with a misshapen tree.  

Young Trees

Young trees aren’t their own variety, but they still have their own trimming needs. The decisions you make early on in a tree’s life can shape its future, so the stakes are high. A mistake in the first year or two could create a situation where you have two trunks or another major structural problem.

The Rules are Different for Fruit and Flowering Trees

To encourage trees to produce buds, you should trim them shortly after flowers have faded. So if flowers blossom in the spring, trim in the summer. For trees that flower in the summer, you want to trim in the winter or early spring.

When to Trim a Tree in Texas

With our warmer fall season compared to much of the rest of the country, it can be beneficial to wait until later in the winter to trim — even into late January. You don’t want to go too much later than that though, because you may run the risk of affecting spring growth.

If you aren’t in Texas, you have the option of trimming a bit earlier in the fall, particularly if you’re in a cold-weather climate.

If You’re At All Uncertain, Hire an Arborist

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when deciding when to trim a tree. Tree trimming is one of the most common services provided by certified arborists. By hiring one, you’re going to get a high degree of knowledge and expertise. A certified arborist will give your trees proper pruning that maximizes their beauty and health, and won’t lead to structural damage.

You can find certified arborists through the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA) website, here. If you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, reach out to us, Arbor Leaf Tree Care, for a free estimate.

Brandon Crowell

Brandon Crowell is the owner and operator of Arbor Leaf Tree Care. He is a certified arborist who, for more than 18 years, has helped Dallas/Fort Worth-area homeowners retain the natural beauty and value of their properties. He is on call 24/7, 365 days a year.
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