Secateurs at the ready

Words by Kirsty McLean

As the gardening season approaches its end, it’s time for a tidy up and a bit of pruning. I think many of us feel confused about what to prune and when we should tackle it, so here are a few simple tips to help. As the gardening season approaches its end, it’s time for a tidy up and a bit of pruning. I think many of us feel confused about what to prune and when we should tackle it, so here are a few simple tips to help.

Firstly, keep in mind that if you prune at the wrong time, it’s not the end of the world! It’s easy to correct in the next growing season by pruning at the right time.

Here are some general rules for pruning:

Spring-flowering trees & shrubs:

These flower on wood produced during the previous seasons’ growth and should be pruned soon after they stop flowering.

Summer-flowering trees & shrubs:

These flower from new wood grown in the same year, so prune these in late winter or spring before new growth starts

Pruning trees and shrubs without flowers or fruit: These should ideally be pruned when they are dormant, which is usually between November and March.

Deciduous trees (those which lose their leaves in autumn):

Most deciduous trees are best pruned when dormant, in late autumn or winter. Don’t prune in early spring as many trees bleed sap if cut at this time of year. The exceptions to the ‘deciduous tree’ rule are maple, horse chestnut, birch, walnut and cherry trees which all bleed even towards the end of the dormant season, so prune these in mid-summer after the new growth has matured.

If major surgery is required or where pruning is required at height, this should be undertaken by a qualified and registered expert. There are plenty of good tree surgeons around to assist with these tasks and they have the correct equipment and knowledge to do so.Evergreen shrubs don’t usually need heavy pruning, just shaping, unless they have been left too long. Most evergreen shrubs can be pruned just before growth starts in mid-spring – provided that the frosts have passed. Evergreens that are still flowering or about to flower in mid-spring can be left until flowering has finished.

Hedges are best pruned between spring and summer – remember to leave hedges wider at the base than the top to help it keep its balance and shape.

Box hedging & topiary:

It’s best to clip this at the beginning of June as long as the night frosts have passed. Don’t clip them in full sunshine and try to do it on a dry day if possible. Make sure that you clear up all the clippings and remove them. Immediately after clipping box hedges, spray the entire hedge with a good dousing of seaweed extract solution, which helps to maintain the health of the plant. Plants are at their most vulnerable when newly pruned. 

If you want to avoid blisters, I would recommend purchasing some cordless, rechargeable hand shears. It’s much easier on the hands when clipping metres of box hedge or complicated topiary!

If you want more detail on specific plants and how to prune these, I can recommend ‘The Pruner’s Handbook’ by John Malins as a good guide.

I hope these tips help but if you want more detail there is a huge amount of information on this subject available on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website at rhs.org.uk

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