There’s an old gardening saying, ‘if it flowers before June, then prune’ immediately after flowering in the spring. Winter pruning, however, is essential for removing dead wood and as many plants, predominantly deciduous, are bare, you can easily see the shape of the shrub or tree, so re-shaping it is easier.
Pruning in winter will also keep your plants healthy for the year ahead.
Either prune to a point where the branch meets the stem or branch, but if a branch is partially diseased or dead then prune the entire branch.
Any dead foliage on evergreen plants such as Taxus (yew) or Ilex (holly) can be cut out to make the plant look better during the winter.
Shrubs that flower on new wood such as paniculata hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens or Lagerstroemia indica (crape myrtle) should be pruned back by a third to a new leaf or flower bud. This will create a sturdy framework to help hold the large blooms.
Any stems that are crossing or rubbing should also be removed to just above the soil or to a new outward-facing leaf or flower bud.
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If the weather is bad, however, it’s good practice to not prune your hydrangeas until March, as the faded blooms will protect the newly formed buds lower down the stem from frost.
During the plant’s dormancy, most trees and shrubs can be pruned to keep them to the shape or size that you want.
Aim to remove only crossed, dead or diseased branches as you don’t want to cut away the newly formed buds.
For dense, multi-stemmed shrubs such as Abelia x grandiflora renovation pruning will help vigorous plants maintain a good shape and structure and prevent over-crowding of stems.
Pruning in winter also helps control or prevent the spread of disease and helps stop problems caused by winter storms, heavy rains and winds.
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Many gardeners panic when it comes to pruning Wisteria, but winter is the perfect time to remove the long, new growth tendrils. Cut these back to two or three buds and then tie them securely onto the wires or trellis.
Don’t be tempted to prune early flowering clematis, however, as you’ll remove the flower buds and therefore any blooms during spring.
Clematis that flowers from mid-summer onwards can be cut back in the winter down to 10cm above soil level.
If you love growing your own apples and pears then winter is the time to prune them; however, do not prune plums until spring for young trees and mid-summer for established specimens.
Pruning plums in winter increases the risk of silver leaf disease.
Apples and pears pruning in the winter helps improve the shape of the tree, promotes better quality fruit, and reduces its size.
By carrying out rejuvenation pruning you also remove branches so that the tree can channel its energy into fewer but better-quality fruit.
Opening up the canopy of the tree will also help improve air circulation and keep down pests and diseases.
The aim is to produce an open-goblet shape.
If, however, you love growing trained, espaliered or pleached fruit trees then summer pruning is recommended.
There is no point in having a tall apple or pear tree with all the fruit forming at the top of the branches. When you look at commercial orchards, the trees are kept short so that picking is easier. The same applies to your own garden.
If you inherit an established tree, then you may have to forego some fruit for a couple of years until you get the pruning right. You don’t want to prune an established tree right back as it can go into shock.
It’s better to prune back a third each year, removing any crossing, dead or diseased branches.
Also, remember that one year you might have a bumper crop, but the following year results in a poor crop, which is known as biennial bearing.
Other ornamental shrubs, such as bush and climbing roses, as well as deciduous shrubs like cotinus and flowering currants, need pruning in the winter to help revive the plants, protect them from the inclement weather and promote healthy growth.