Today’s installment, a gardeners’ guide to pruning is designed to bring you the fun-damentals of this practice and have you pruning like a pro in no time.
Pruning itself is a huge topic, and you will find each plant will require it’s own specific maintenance regime. Our gardeners’ guide to pruning will bring you all the basics, making it the ideal companion for those newer to the gardening game. It is also a handy resource for those looking to brush up on their knowledge or in need of a quick refresher.
A Gardeners’ Guide to Pruning: The Fundamentals
Why We Prune
Nature to an extent tends to maintain itself throughout the seasons, so why the need for human intervention? Yes, on the face of it this statement is pretty valid. Trees do have the ability to shed any unwanted branches or bark, whilst local wildlife lend a hand in shaping the landscape for feeding or territorial purposes. So why lift a finger?
Arguably the most important reason we gardeners prune is to protect the health of plants. Pruning out any damage caused by weather, disease, pests or infections can heal your plant and maximise its chances of survival. Dead or broken branches also need to be chopped to ensure all your projects have a speedy bounce back.
We don’t just prune to defend against the outside elements, we also use pruning to protect our favourite plants from themselves! Trimming back overgrowth of branches creates a stronger, free flowing circulation of air. This technique benefits your projects in several ways, the most important being, it largely decreases the risk of fungal diseases forming.
At certain times of the year, certain species of will undoubtedly need some attention. So here is a quick seasonal guide to the styles of pruning that need to be undertaken in your garden on an annual basis.
Winter/Spring Pruning Tasks (November-March)
Typically gardeners that own deciduous trees or shrubs will use this window to prune their plants; This is because these species enter a period of dormancy (meaning they are in a state of halted growth). There are plenty of reasons why braving the cold to tend to your trees is not as crazy as it sounds…
This is the most visible your structure will be all year round thanks to the cold weather. Its bare frame should make entangled branches, weakness or disease easy to diagnose and conquer before the weather warms up (the introduction of heat tends to spread and worsen diseases; and as we all know early prevention is the key to keeping the problem minimal). This increased visibility also allows you the opportunity to re-shape your plant if desired.
Pruning in a state of dormancy also encourages healthy, vigorous growth as spring re-activates your plant.
Hard Pruning in Winter
It is important to note immediately that this style of pruning is commonly known as a high stress technique and is not suitable for all deciduous plants. We will outline some of the plants that prefer a cold hard prune and if yours is not present, a quick bit of further research is needed.
So what do we mean by hard prune? The practice of hard pruning focuses on cutting back the branches of your tree or shrub quite heavily. In more extreme cases some plants may need to be pruned all the way back to base. This technique is usually implemented for all of the reasons above. It also acts to reduce the likelihood of your tree becoming injured by unpredictable weather elements (Broken branches caused by heavy rain and wind damage).
After hard pruning your plant may not flower the coming season, or for a few seasons, but do not panic, it is just part of the process.
Winter is the best time to prune:
Climbing, bush, shrub, floribunda and hybrid tea roses all benefit from a hard prune in December-January. Wait to prune ramblers till the summer months arrive. For a more in depth look at pruning techniques and top tips for your roses give How to Revive your Roses a read!
Fruit trees that autumn fruit such as raspberries excluding those in their first year of growth (November-January)
Fruit bushes such as blackberries, blueberries, red currants and gooseberry bushes should all be pruned in the safety of winter. (December-February)
Pruning apple and pear trees excluding those in their first year of growth ( November-March) helps to encourage fruiting. Stone fruit trees are different and should not be pruned at this time of year.
Finding this gardening lingo a little to tough to decipher? Check out our top 83: Helpful gardening terms for beginner gardeners and brush up on that all important terminology.
This style of pruning is carried out on trees that have completed their first year of development, all the way through to their fifth year for certain species.
The reason for formative pruning is simple; to ensure your plant has a spacious, airy framework and strong structure that will support healthy crops for years to come.
This form of pruning should only be achieved when your plant is dormant, making it another one of those winter tasks.
The aim with formative pruning is to remove growth that is directly competing for energy with the central stem of your tree. If you have quite a few branches, choose 3 to keep (the strongest and healthiest) and remove the rest. This style of pruning is an essential practice for those of you who own fruit baring trees.
Pollarding is an extreme form of tree maintenance and is usually a job best left for a professional.
The practice itself involves cutting a tree almost to its trunk in order to allow denser branches to grow. This helps to stop trees from growing wildly in public areas (such as near power lines or on busy streets and roads) and keeps people safe.
Not all trees are receptive to pollarding. For those that are the Winter/Spring period tends to be the best time to pounce, with Maple as an exception.
Spring/Summer pruning tasks (March-August)
This is a general rule, as always do some further research before reaching for the shears, there are always exceptions.
Typically those that own shrubs that flower in the summer prune their plants in spring of the following year (March/April) Pruning at this time allows for plenty of new growth, and encourages beautiful, healthy flowering displays that very same year.
Those that own shrubs that flower in spring prune their shrubs after the bloom has finished that year (June-August)
Renewal Pruning Spring Flowering Shrubs
As with hard pruning in winter the goal is relatively the same; to cut back weak or unproductive wood to make way for new growth the following Spring. Whilst the objective is the same, the scale on which these tasks are performed is very different. Renewal pruning is a lot less extreme.
The first task you will want to carry out, is to begin deadheading as soon as your plant has finished flowering. Remove any wood that looks dead or possibly diseased. Any spindly shoots your plant may adorn can also be pruned out leaving the newer, stronger growth intact.
Remember you want a light, airy base to keep your plant healthy. If you find your plant in an abundance of twigs, remove some by cutting them back to base level.
If you notice any branches that cross over one another whilst you prune, trim them back too as over time they can rub together and wound your your plant. These wounds have the potential to become infected.
Spring flowering shrubs to prune: Lilac, Philadelphus, Forsythia
Hedges: Box. Beech, Privet, Hornbeam, Laurel
Roses: Rambling Roses
Tenders: Fuschia, Romneya, Abutilon
Fruit Trees: Cherries, Plums
Climbers: Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Wisteria
Pruning is one of those tasks, as gardeners, we really should be tending to regularly for maintenance purposes. Any diseased, ill or dead branches should be removed when spotted, no matter the season, to revitalise your plant instantly.
A Gardeners’ Guide to Pruning: The Toolkit
It may not sound like an important task, but matching the right pruning tool to the job at hand is crucial for the well being of your plant. The best way to figure out the perfect match is to know the size of the cuts that need making and the genetics of your plant. Are you cutting into thick woody branches or deadheading delicate flowers?
Here is a list of the main toolbox contenders
Hand pruner/Pruning Shears
Pruning shears are an essential for every gardener. This tool allows you to cut down a number of plants from grass to flowers. You can even use them to trim your hedge! You are going to want a pruner with a plenty of shock absorber in the form of thick rubber padding.
The scale of saw varies from small handsaws all the way to chainsaws. You typically use a saw to achieve cuts in thick green or brown wood.
Loppers are essentially shears with really long handles. You typically use loppers to cut those hard to reach branches and twigs. Thanks to their handles they are by far the largest manual pruning tool.
A pruning knife is a very handy accomplice to have when tackling any size garden. You can use this tool to help maintain just about any plant. It has the ability to remove bark, cut flowers, prune vines and even cut branches.
When Pruning Causes Problems
Making the wrong cuts to your plant at the wrong time of year can result in the wounded area ‘bleeding’. The most efficient and natural way to remedy this issue is to make sure the affected area has plenty of space and air and it should do the rest of the work. Plants susceptible to bleeding: Acre, Poplar, Magnolia and Birch.
Coral spot is a fungus that affects trees or woody plants causing stems and branches to die back and produce coral coloured spots. Making jagged edged pruning cuts can encourage this disease to occur. The only real way to heal your plant is to prune out the disease following these vital steps.
Keep bin bags to hand when removing infected twigs and leaves.
Bagging infected materials up immediately makes it impossible for them to affect your plant any further. This foliage is best disposed of on the bonfire. Using this material for compost is an incredibly bad idea.
Clean all pruning tools before and after you use them. There are a number of great garden disinfectants on the market for you to explore or alternatively good old soap and water never fails.
Wear clean clothes and shoes when gardening.
Make sure you give everything a good scrub after too! Failure to do so may result in you unknowingly continuing to spread the infection throughout your garden.
Another fungal disease spread through pruning wounds. This disease is highly progressive and often fatal for your plants. The silvering of leaves is a telltale sign that you have a problem on your hands. Your best chance of remedying the situation is to spot it early and begin hard pruning, following the steps above.
And there you have it, our gardeners’ guide to pruning! Has a routine prune uncovered something sinister lurking on your bushes? A quick reaction will be the key to saving your tree. If you need some friendly advice or a helping hand, feel free to branch out to a member of our re-leaf team.