For More Information on this article contact The Chattooga County Extension Office at 706-857-0744

Trees are more sensitive to stresses as they are budding out. For trees, the best time to work around them (dig, plant, transplant and prune, etc.) is the dormant season. During bud break is the worse time to work around trees. Bud break is the time in the early spring when buds begin to open and grow. Here are a few hints to protect trees in landscapes at this time of year.

Herbicides applied under the canopy of trees can harm trees. To me, this seems to be more of a problem during bud break and early spring. Be careful using herbicides under trees–especially dicamba (Banvel, etc.) and glyphosate (Round Up, etc). To prevent herbicide injury to trees:

            * Avoid using herbicides under tree canopies (under the branches).

            * Do not spray bare ground under trees. With no grass or mulch to stop them, these herbicides can leach through the soil and be taken up by roots and can damage the tree.

            * Instead of spraying under tree canopies, create mulched beds to control weeds.

            * Do not “soak” the ground with these herbicides. Spray them only on the leaves of weeds to get the best result on the weeds and to protect the tree.

            * Do not use weed & feed fertilizers designed for turf on or near trees. Especially avoid using weed and feed under the tree’s canopy.

Avoid digging around trees. This weakens the trees and can shorten their useful life in the landscape. If you must dig, delay digging around trees until after the leaves are full size. Then the tree should be a little more able to withstand stress. In general, we discourage digging around trees since it destroys roots and can lead to long term tree injury, decline and death. Trees may take several years to show stress due to root injury.

Dr. Kim Coder, UGA Professor of Community Forestry, suggests that we do not prune or fertilize trees from the time that buds begin to open until the time leaves are full sized. Pruning and fertilizing at this time will stress the tree and make it more susceptible to pests. Avoid pruning pines during the growing season since wounds may bleed and attract pine beetles.

A few trees also tend to bleed a lot when pruned during bud break which is unsightly. These include maple, birch, dogwood, beech, elm, willow, flowering plum and flowering cherry. Once again, wait until the leaves are full sized before you prune.

Prune trees in the dormant season or after leaves are full sized. Ask yourself when pruning – do I want this plant to grow faster or slower? Pruning in the dormant season tends to make plants grow more vigorously while pruning in the growing season tends to slow plant growth. Fertilization is best done after trees are fully leaved out.

As shrubs and trees bud out, we wonder when we should prune. This is probably a reminder for most of us but it is good to be reminded.

For this type of plant                                      Prune at this time

Spring bloomer (blooms before May 1)             Just after bloom through July 15

Non-bloomer                                                   January through September 15

Summer bloomer                                              January through September 15 but not so close to bloom as to cut off flower buds and flowers.

Remember when pruning pyramidal shrubs and trees to keep the plant wider at the base than at the top. This helps keep the plant from getting bare at the bottom and gives a more natural shape to the plant.

Severe pruning to drastically reduce the size of the plant should be finished in February and March. For more information on pruning see

Remember that Ambrosia beetles attack weakened or young trees at this time of year. For more information see our earlier Alert on this subject.


Willie Chance, UGA Extension Agent – Houston County