Pruning for Beginners

This is the time of year when seasoned gardeners pick up their pruning shears and shiny new secateurs and swing into action in the garden to cut, tidy, nip, twist, prune and stake in order to prepare plants for the new growing season which is almost upon us.

To the novice gardener, pruning can seem a daunting task so we’ve put together this simple ‘How To’ beginners’ guide which will help you get started without any fears that you may inadvertently make a mess of things and at worst, destroy the very plants you are trying to take care of. The single most important thing to remember when you pick up the secateurs or pruning shears is that what you are aiming for is an ‘open’ centre to the plant which will allow the air to circulate freely which, in turn, helps reduce the risks of pest infection and other diseases.

Take the time to really inspect the plant you want to prune or cut back and look for those parts where there is overcrowded growth, where stems are crossing and where branches are dead, dying or damaged. These are the parts of the plant you will need to remove by pruning. If you are lucky enough to live in a wisteria-covered Chocolate-box English cottage you will need to prune the wisteria during February. Cut back sideshoots to just two or three buds (2.5-5cm) but take care not to snip off any of the flower buds. Other ornamental climbers that need to be pruned this month include any vines, Ivy, Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy. It’s a good idea to keep these plants in check and away from window frames, guttering, doors and roof tiles where the rooting offshoots can cause serious structural damage if not properly managed and maintained. If you own an orchard or even just a handful of fruit trees, this last part of winter is also the time to prune your apple and pear trees. It may make more sense, especially if the trees are quite large, to call on the services of a tree surgeon for this specialist job but if you do plan to tackle this pruning yourself, by sawing off the branches, you can remove them, but take great care not to damage the tree itself.

Alongside all this pruning, tidying and training of your climbers and creepers, you will need to mulch the soil with a good quality organic compost to improve it’s nutrient levels which, in turn, will help support the growth spurt the pruned plants will put on after this cutting back. You may also want to invest in specialist feed mixes and solutions for those plants you want to encourage to flourish and bloom exuberantly through the Spring and Summer months.

Trim Winter flowering heathers to prevent the plants from becoming leggy and bare looking and tie wall shrubs and climbers onto their supports to help reduce the risk of any wind damage – Spring has started to make its presence felt in the garden but we are by no means out of the woods weather-wise and so your plants are still vulnerable to the vagaries of a British Winter climate.

Finally, remove any shoots appearing on variegated evergreens that have reverted back to a green colour to make sure any reversion does not become permanent – reversion will always take over if you leave it unchecked.


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