The Right Cut
Timing and good tools are essential when it comes to pruning.
The first foray into the world of pruning is always daunting for new gardeners. But once you have taken that first snip and seen the benefits, it’s a steep learning curve. Nearly all plants, shrubs and trees benefit from an annual nip and tuck. Regular pruning will regulate growth, improve the quality of fruit and flowers and is essential to get rid of diseased shoots or wood.
By removing part of the new growth the root system is activated into producing more growth. With practice and observation you will be able to see how particular plants, trees and shrubs react. Timing and tools are important. Make sure you have a sharp pair of secateurs (ideal for roses and shrubs); for trees including fruit trees you will need something more serious such as loppers.
To prune correctly make a cut just above a node. The cut should be clean with no part of the bark or stem remaining. Begin the cut opposite a healthy bud at a diagonal so that new shoots will grow away from the centre.
Some plants or shrubs are much hardier when it comes to pruning; others such as camellias are more delicate. If in doubt do not prune too harshly, by watching the annual growth you will soon work out how different plants, shrubs and trees vary and respond. Light pruning in the early spring will develop growth.
In the case of fruit trees make sure you have finished pruning before
signs of new growth appear. The two main times of the year to prune are spring and autumn, although winter, December and January is a good time to shape trees, particularly if there are a lot of unruly shoots. Climbers such as wisteria can also be pruned in winter.
Winter is a good time to prune plants such as Virginia creeper and ivy that may have wrapped itself around a drainpipe or gobbled up light from windows. Get rid of unwanted side shoots and also cut just above a bud in a diagonal cut. After pruning it is always advisable to feed.
Shrubs and trees
Deciduous trees and shrubs can do with a bit of early (February) pruning. You can be quite radical pruning back to the shape you require and getting rid of much of last year’s growth. Use this time of year to shape the trees and shrubs when you can see what needs removing. It’s a good time to prune late-flowering shrubs such as buddleja, ceanothus and even fuchsias.
You can also prune evergreens, tidying them up to the original shape. This means you will get more growth from the base rather than from lateral shoots. If you are cutting off a substantial branch do it in stages so you do not have the whole weight of the branch at one time.
The intention for pruning fruit trees is to improve the quality of the fruit. These trees should be goblet shaped, with no crossing branches. Dead wood should be cut off to healthy food and any fungus or disease should be removed or treated.
Fruit trees such as apple, pear and berries such as gooseberries and redcurrants can be pruned in the early part of the year. The more you prune the stronger the growth will be the following year. Thin out the tree so that the branches are not all massed together. You are likely to get less disease if the air can circulate within the branches. If you have had a bad year the benefits of a good prune may take a couple of years.
Cut back spindly and diseased branches. Redcurrants and gooseberries can be pruned after flowering. But it is always a good idea to prune in the winter when there are no leaves so you can see which shoots are strongest. Cut back until the shoot is healthy and cut just above the bud. For blackberries thin out the bush by taking out some of the stems. Up to one in three is fine, choosing the older or less healthy looking to cut. For fruit trees (apples, pears) all pruning should be done early, by February before new growth starts to appear
Depending on the climate where you live March is usually the safest
time to start pruning roses although some gardeners prefer to prune them in the autumn after the last flowers have faded. You can start pruning tall roses in December. By reducing the height of the rose you will stop branches being damaged by wind and harsh weather conditions in winter.
You don’t need to fine tune your pruning now as you can do that in the spring. In the spring the advantage is that there is more new growth and with the worst of winter over you can see where the damage is, before new leaves and buds appear. You’ll need to remove all dead stems and any stems that cross over others.
Cut out weak stems and prune so that you keep the shape of the bush and there is enough space for the air to circulate around new stems. Prune the shoots from the previous year’s growth so that they remain strong and healthy.
Most deciduous hedges can be pruned in December. You will need a good pair of secateurs or loppers to use at the base to ensure a clean cut of larger branches. Once the hedge is established you can use hedge trimmers to cut off uneven growth and keep the shape uniform. Make sure you remove any dead or diseased wood and cut out any dead growth. If you have a small garden you can prune quite drastically, back to the original shape but not as far as the bare wood.
February is a good time to start pruning most hedges to ensure that you keep their shape. Conifers such as Yew will take hard pruning, you can trim it regularly and shape it. Other conifers will not take kindly to hard pruning so check before you prune. As with all hedges it is best not to let them overgrow, as straggly shoots will affect the density of the hedge. Most established hedges (such as box) will need to be trimmed two or three times a year.