Winter Pruning

Why trees and hedges should be cut in winter and autumn?

You might wonder why we prune plants at all, after all they don't get pruned in the wild. If we don't prune plants, trees and shrubs they won't die, they will just get bigger and bigger and your garden will end up looking a bit unruly. There's nothing wrong if you like the slightly 'wild' untidy look. But if you do like a garden with a bit of order, then there are some pruning jobs you can get on with during autumn and winter.

When to prune

Most trees and shrubs should be pruned during the dormant season when you are less likely to cause stress and damage to the plant. As a general rule it is best to save winter pruning until late in the season, late February or March, to reduce any risk of new shoots being frost damaged.

Which plants to prune?

Fruit trees such as apples and pears should be pruned every winter to ensure a good crop of fruit the following year. Prune free-standing trees from November to March when the tree is dormant. Espalier/fan trained fruit trees should have leaders pruned in November. If your tree is large or near to your house it's probably worth enlisting the services of an expert tree surgeon. Even if you want to tackle to job yourself, a tree surgeon will be able to give you advice about the health of your tree and where best to prune.

Shrubs need only be pruned to suit your own taste for shape and size. The only other reasons to prune shrubs include: to remove dead stems or branches, to thin out dense or tangled branches, or to remove all-green shoots from variegated shrubs.

Shrub roses are best pruned in winter. They respond well to hard pruning. Remove dead, thin and decayed wood and shorted main stems by about one third.

Clematis falls into two main types - those that flower early and those that flower late. Only prune the late flowering varieties in winter, from February to early March.

Winter pruning wisteria encourages the development of the short-flowering spurs that produce flowers in spring. Prune any time between mid-October and mid-March.

Even shrubs in outdoor planters can benefit from a yearly tidy up. Container grown shrubs are often used as a center piece and therefore shape and size are important. Prune box trees in containers in autumn/ early winter to maintain their shape.

Which tools to use?

There are many tools used for pruning but the essential ones include a good pair of pruning shears, lopping shears, hedge shears, hand saws and chain saws for larger jobs.

How to prune

Before you begin to prune proper, make sure you remove any dead or diseased wood. Open out the centre of the plant by removing any tangled or crossed branches. Prune each stem back to just above an outward facing healthy bud or shoot. Make a clean cut which is slightly angled away from the bud. This prevents water from running onto the bud and provides a smaller healing surface for the shoot. Reduce each branch of stem by at least a third. Remove any suckers, particularly on roses or lilac trees. Finally remove any old leaves to prevent the spread of disease .


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