7 trees to prune in March as they start to break their winter dormancy

Discover a range of ornamental and fruit trees that may benefit from pruning this month

Gardener pruning tree branches with pruning shears
(Image credit: Alamy/Krisana Antharith)

March is the start of spring for many of us, and it can be a final chance to prune lots of those trees that are ideally pruned in late winter or early spring. 

The onset of spring will start many trees to come out of dormancy and into growth - providing a perfect time to trim as the buds start to break. Whether to shape the tree, preserve its health, or promote the development of flowers or fruits, pruning in March offers many potential benefits.

Knowing when to prune trees correctly and how to prune tree branches is very important for preserving the health of any trees. To help you make informed decisions, we take a closer look at seven trees to prune in March, along with a guide to how much trimming they may need.

Pruning tree branches with a pair of loppers

(Image credit: Getty Images/Csondy)

Tools for pruning trees in March 

Taking care of your garden tools before pruning will not only make trimming easier, but safer for your trees. Pruning shears, loppers, and pruning saws should be sharp and clean. 

Sharp tools make cleaner cuts that are easier for the tree to heal, and sterilized cutting tools stop you from spreading diseases around the garden. It can be as simple as using a pocket-sized blade sharpener, available at Amazon, to sharpen the blades on shears or loppers before making your first pruning cut.

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1. Chestnut

Chestnut blossoms on a chestnut tree

(Image credit: Getty Images/Oliver Helbig)

Chestnuts are deciduous trees that produce the edible nuts that give them their name. There are both European and American species of chestnut trees and the largest can grow up to 200 feet in height - there are many smaller varieties perfectly suited for backyard ideas

Most chestnut trees do not need much pruning, however, they can be trimmed for health reasons and to keep them super-productive. The right time to prune chestnut trees comes in late winter or early spring before the buds start to swell - and March can be an ideal month for this. Pruning in this window minimizes the risk of the tree bleeding sap. 

It is best to pick a dry day in March to do any trimming to avoid making a tree-pruning mistake that can leave your chestnut susceptible to diseases. Remove any dead, diseased, and damaged wood and branches going in unwanted directions. This will help to let more air and light into the canopy.

2. Crabapple

Crabapple tree full of fruits in fall

(Image credit: Getty Images/whitemay)

Crabapple trees should be pruned to maintain the desired shape and form of the tree, thin the canopy, and help keep these popular trees healthy. 

They do not need pruning every year, but when they do need some attention the period of late winter to early spring is the right time, making them one of the best trees to prune in March. You want to get the task done just before the buds start to swell. Depending on your location, this could be anytime from January through to early April. If you haven’t got around to pruning your crabapple this year, then March may be the ideal time. 

Focus primarily on the removal of suckers, water sprouts, and dead, diseased, and damaged branches. Then look to remove crossing branches and ones that grow inwards towards the center, which will open up that canopy and help keep the tree healthy.

3. Hawthorn


(Image credit: Alamy)

The hawthorn tree is a historic type of tree with red berries that can grow in US hardiness zones 5-9. As well as being great ornamental trees, they are also popular as hedging plants or are commonly used as trees for privacy

An established hawthorn should be pruned in late winter and a pair of strong and thick gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection are essential as the tree has sharp thorns. Luckily, they do not need regular pruning and trimming can be as simple as removing any damaged, diseased, or crossing branches. Hawthorn trees do not react well to hard pruning and a hawthorn should not be pruned until it reaches its maturity.

4. Holly

Holly tree with red berries in a backyard

(Image credit: Getty Images/Danielle D. Hughson)

Holly trees can be great evergreen trees and most varieties of holly that are commonly grown as evergreen shrubs can develop into fantastic trees. There are hundreds of varieties of holly to grow and the tallest can grow up to 50 feet in height. 

Holly is very versatile and can be pruned and grown in many different shapes. The trees can be kept under control through pruning, meaning that holly trees can work in gardens of all sizes. 

Holly wants to be pruned in spring, once the risks of frost have passed in your US hardiness zone. March will be a good time in some climates, while others may have to wait until April. Removing selected large stems, or cutting some of the oldest stems back to a bud, can help to shape a holly tree. Try to show restraint, though, and do not remove more than one-third of the tree when pruning

5. Lime

Leaves and fruits of a lime tree on a sunny day

(Image credit: Getty Images/Finn Bjurvoll Hansen)

Among the best trees to prune in March is the lime. Lime trees can be grown in a backyard to provide juicy and delicious homegrown limes. Pruning citrus trees, such as limes but also lemons and oranges, every two or three years when they are established can help you get a fantastic harvest of fruits, as well as keep a tree healthy. 

Pruning a lime tree is best done in late winter or early spring, once your frosts have ended for the year, and the first port of call needs to be to remove any remaining fruit off the tree. 

Taking a pair of sharp and clean pruning shears and removing crossing branches, rubbing branches, weak branches, and dead, diseased, and damaged wood, will help keep a lime tree healthy and prolific. It is not advised to trim off more than 20% of the branches at one time.

6. Mulberry

mulberries on tree

(Image credit: Jenny Dettrick / Moment / Getty Images)

Mulberry trees are among the group of fruit trees, including apples and pears, that are pruned routinely in winter. If you have not got around to pruning fruit trees this winter, then March may be the last chance to get this done. 

Mulberries should be pruned when they are dormant in winter, however, they do not require as much trimming as apples or pears and any pruning should only be small-scale. Trim away any diseased or dead branches and gently shape the mulberry tree every three years or so. 

Keep the cuts small and clean, as mulberry trees do bleed sap and can be susceptible to pests and diseases if you leave large pruning wounds. If you have not pruned apple trees or pruned pear trees and live in a colder climate, then you can still do this in March too.

7. Witch hazel

Common Witch-hazel from Nature Hills

(Image credit: Nature Hills)

Witch hazels can be large shrubs or small trees and their pruning requirements are very small-scale. 

They do not need regular trimming and pruning a witch hazel is very quick and simple. It means you can enjoy the fantastic flowers of witch hazel as part of a winter garden without needing to head out with the garden tools often to trim them. 

Pruning takes place in early spring and all you need to do is remove dead, damaged, or diseased stems, along with any growth heading inwards or going in unwanted directions. This gently shaping can help to keep a witch hazel grown as a tree perfect for your space.


Can you prune trees in the frost?

You should consider the weather when planning on pruning any trees or shrubs. That includes not trimming when it is frosty, or if a frost is predicted in the next few days, as extreme cold temperatures can get into pruning cuts and cause damage. As well as not pruning in frosts, refrain from trimming during periods of heavy rain as moisture can sit on the pruning wounds and put the tree at risk of diseases. 

March can be a very busy month in the garden. As well as there being lots of trees and shrubs to prune in March, there are also lots of seeds to sow and vegetables to plant in March. You may need to build a big spring gardening checklist to make sure you get everything done over the next few months.

Drew Swainston
Content Editor

Drew’s passion for gardening started with growing vegetables and salad in raised beds in a small urban terrace garden. He has gone on to work as a professional gardener in historic gardens across the UK and also specialise as a kitchen gardener growing vegetables, fruit, herbs, and cut flowers. That passion for growing extends to being an allotmenteer, garden blogger, and producing how-to gardening guides for websites. Drew was shortlisted in the New Talent of the Year award at the 2023 Garden Media Guild Awards.