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Issue: December 25, 2010

Headline TextYou can prune evergreens now for a little holiday greenery, but do major pruning in late winter

Q. We have a large cedar tree and wish to trim off the lower branches and the longer branches that extend into the driveway. When is the safest time to prune and is there literature available on "how to?" Lou S.

A. In general it is best to prune evergreen trees and shrubs in the late winter or early spring just before new growth begins. This reduces the winter desiccation damage that can occur when branches that were protected by outer branches are removed. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. One evergreen that should be pruned later is the pyracantha, because to prune it before new growth begins would be to remove the flowers and resulting fruit that are part of the beauty of the plant. However, you are asking about a cedar tree, one of the conifer trees. I am not sure if you are referring to a juniper, which is often called "cedar" in the Southwest, or to a true cedar, which looks more like a spruce tree. However, the pruning time is the same. Since you want to remove lower branches, which are often the protected branches, pruning now should cause little harm. In fact, many people do prune now so that they can use the greenery in Christmas wreaths and other holiday decorations. Minor pruning to collect the greenery will cause little harm. You want to prune lower branches and "nuisance/hazard" branches that interfere with traffic. This should be done whenever the hazard exists for safety (and sometimes legal) reasons. I recommend that you remove these branches now.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h or http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/periodicals.html

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.