There is winter gardening in Minnesota

By Brenda Pohlman

Houston County Master Gardener

As you pour over those garden catalogs wishing for winter to draw to a close, remember you can still garden in Minnesota during winter.

Make your thumb a little greener by giving your trees a winter manicure. Proper pruning will promote tree health, help maintain the tree, improve tree appearance and protect people and property. Routine pruning can be done anytime of the year, but trees grow better and wounds heal faster when pruning takes place right before the spring growth flush.  In Minnesota, a best practice is to prune trees between February and early April.

Many homeowners are unsure of how to properly prune tress so here are a few helpful hints.

Select a new tree for the environment it will grow in and prune along the way so it is easier to maintain and shape it as it grows.

If you have an already established tree, start by cleaning out dead, diseased, crowded or rubbing branches to eliminate hazards. Next, thin selectively from the middle of the tree to allow foliage access to air and water. This also reduces the weight of the heavy limbs and allows the tree to maintain shape. If you have concerns about lower branches in the way of buildings, people or lawn maintenance you may remove them.

One tree trimming tactic to avoid is tree topping. Topping is the cutting off the top of the tree leaving only stubs or smaller branches that are not strong enough to grow back as a dominant branch. Topping hurts trees because it takes away foliage that provides energy for the tree while exposing the tree to decay, sunburn and potential death.  This practice also takes away the natural beauty of the tree, which reduces curb appeal and lowers property values. Reduction pruning is a better method than topping.  It reduces the size of longer branches by cutting back lateral ones or removes some branches at their point of origin.

To trim smaller branches, you can use a pruning or lopping shear to cut a branch back to a side branch or make a cut ¼ inch above the bud that is facing the outside of a plant. Hand or pole saws work better for cutting of larger tree limbs.

To remove larger branches, make an undercut about 18 inches from the trunk. Undercut one-third to one-half way through the branch. Make the second cut an inch further out on the branch and cut until the branch breaks free.  To make the final cut, locate the area near the main stem that seems slightly swollen. Cut just above this area so that the wound seals well.

Above all else, please be careful when you prune trees. Check your equipment to make sure it is functioning properly and ask a buddy to assist because you may need to use a ladder or need help lifting or loading branches.

Remember you can always contact a master gardener to give you onsite pruning education or hire an arborist to trim your trees. For additional tree and shrub pruning information go the University of Minnesota Extension website at

If you are like me and need more than pruning to green up your thumb, you should attend the “We Dig It Workshop” at Caledonia Middle School/High School on Saturday, March 29 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. This event is sponsored by the Houston County Master Gardens and Caledonia Area Community Education and includes great speakers, lunch, door prizes and vendors – all for $25.

To register for this great winter blues breaker, contact Cindy Frank at Caledonia Area Community Education via phone at 507-725-5139 or by emailing [email protected]