The taller trees are typically the first to admit that summer is finished and that it is now autumn, even in the mild climates of Los Angeles. Perhaps because they are higher up and into the changing weather more than smaller plants that are sheltered and closer to the ground. Some trees are beginning to change color. Others are thinking about it. Evergreens are, . . . well, evergreen; so they may not seem to change so much. Nonetheless, autumn is here, and most plants will consequently be going dormant for the winter, or at least slowing down a bit.
For many trees and other plants that need to be pruned, the next few months will be the best time for it. Because they are more or less dormant, they are not very aware of whatever procedures they are subjected to. When they wake up in spring, they simply adapt to the earlier pruning and start growing as if not much happened to them. Dormancy is like a natural anesthesia for trees and plants.
Conversely, the end of winter and beginning of spring is the worst time to prune many trees and plants because they are just emerging from dormancy, so are wide awake! If necessary, minor pruning done properly is generally tolerable, but should realistically be done either before or after that time. Maples, birches, mulberries and figs express their disapproval of late pruning by bleeding profusely, and sometimes for a long time.
Deciduous trees are most dormant by winter when their leaves have fallen off. Pruning them a bit earlier would probably be harmless, but deprives them of their colorful foliage. Gingkoes, poplars and mulberries typically defoliate earliest. Oaks, elms and sweetgums (liquidambars) take their time, holding onto their leaves until they get knocked out by wind and rain. Oaks and elms are not very colorful anyway. Sweetgums though can look too good to get pruned late into winter!
Arborists are physicians of trees, so can prescribe recommended pruning and maintenance procedures. Many trees, like Chinese elms, fruitless mulberries and willows, need more attention than others. Austrian black pines and Eastern redbuds are not so needy. Blue spruces that are allowed to remain branched to the ground and have enough space around them may never need a visit by an arborist.
Regardless of how much attention any particular tree needs, when it develops a problem that is out of reach, it should be assessed by an arborist, and hopefully pruned accordingly. Because trees are the most substantial features of the landscape, and can develop worse problems if not maintained properly, it is imperative to procure the services of qualified arborists; and not trust such important tasks to a gardener or anyone who can find a chain saw and pick up. Fortunately, certified arborists can be found at the website of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), at www.isaarbor.com.