Notes on Pruning in 2024

February and March are often some of the best times to prune.  2024 has proven to be a rollercoaster of a year already.  From some of the coldest temperatures in mid-Janaury to some of the most unseasonably warm (record-setting in some areas) temperatures in February.  This does not mean pruning changes much, but it does raise some questions.  Below are some answers to a few pruning FAQs and links to pruning resources, including some newly updated ones!

pruning a branchCan I Still Prune My Oak Tree?

Pruning oaks during the growing season (non-dormant season) could make them more vulnerable to infection from the fungus that causes oak wilt. To reduce the risk of an oak wilt infection, winter (December through February) is the best time to prune oak trees in Iowa.  This is because as temperatures warm in March and April, the sap-feeding beetles that can transmit the fungus causing oak wilt become more active.  Pruning oak trees in winter greatly reduces the risk of an oak wilt infection as the beetles are not present at that time of year. 

So, with the recent warm temperatures across much of the state, can I still prune my oak tree and not risk the potential transmission of oak wilt?  In short, probably! We have not likely seen enough warm temperatures to lead to the start of sap beetle activity.  However, if the warm trend continues, they will likely emerge earlier than in an average year.  Dr. Jeff Iles recommends pruning oaks sooner rather than later.  The sooner you prune those oaks, the less likely you will have issues.  

The good news is that other tree species common in the landscape, such as maple, linden, or crabapple, don't have the same disease issues and can be pruned anytime before their leaves emerge.  So start with the oaks; if you can't get everything pruned before the end of February, at least you have the oaks done!  Learn more about pruning and oak wilt in this article: Pruning Oak Trees to Avoid Oak Wilt.

pruning grapevinesNew Resources on Pruning Grapes

Grapes must be pruned regularly to get good, high-quality crops.  For some home gardeners, pruning grapevines is a bit intimidating.  (Do I really remove THAT much?!) Randall Vos, Commercial Fruit Crops Field Specialist, has developed updated resources to help.  They include many photos to help even a novice grape grower get started.  This new resource is here: How to Prune Grapevines in the Home Garden.

More Resources on Pruning

Iowa State University has many resources available to help with pruning all your woody plants.  You can access all of them here: Your Complete Guide to Pruning Trees and Shrubs.

Happy pruning!

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Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on February 13, 2024. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.