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The Art of Pruning

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, but that doesn’t mean that work in the garden has to stop. In fact, December is a very important month in cleaning and preparing the garden for the start of spring.

It’s been quite a mild, wet autumn and early winter so far. But as we enter December there’s been the suggestion of frost. On early starts, I’ve seen a bit of ice forming in the shadows on garage roofs, but we’ve not had a hard ground frost yet.

I have already seen the emergence of some of the green tips of bulbs put in in 2018 and 2019. RenewEL has mulched most of the gardens we work in to protect slumbering plants from the cold and keep the soil relatively moist and warm and discourage the emergence of weeds.

We’ll continue to mulch, applying manures, leaf mold or composted bark and woodchip.

The other job that we are turning to now is pruning. Pruning is one of those jobs that cause confusion, and most gardeners don’t know when or where to prune. In this season, the priority is to remove any dead, diseased or damaged shoots. Pruning in the winter can be less of a shock to hardy trees and shrubs, as they are not growing, and because the ambient temperature outside is low, a plant’s sap is not flowing very quickly, so a pruned specimen is less likely to bleed.

The fact that most deciduous plants will have lost their leaves by now, means that the plant’s branching and structure is easier to see. However, one should be wary of pruning tender plants in the winter, as frost can damage any pruning wounds.

Right now, we are paying attention to our client’s roses, by ‘heading over’, or removing any dead, damaged, diseased or crossing over shoots, taking off the last hips and reducing the overall size of the plant by about one-third. We’re also using the opportunity to give our roses a good mulch with rotted-down manure. We will return to the roses in the spring to give them another hard prune before the growing season.

We’re tidying up evergreen hedges, reshaping them and trimming the tops and bringing them back to their form. We’re also trimming back deciduous hedges, shrubs and trees so they look neat and avoid any damage from winter storms, concentrating on dead, damaged and diseased growth and cutting back to form and shape. Any remaining herbaceous plants, such as late flowering lavenders, unattended raspberry canes or ornamental grasses are being cut back. We’re avoiding any wildlife hedges, as now is the time when small mammals, insects and amphibians are settling down to slumber through the winter.

Yes, the garden will look bleak after you’ve gone over it with your shears, but you are clearing the way for new growth and six months’ from now the scene will be transformed. If this job is done correctly you will be creating good-shaped, flower-laden healthy plants with an even cover of foliage and promoting better flowering. Pruning keeps shrubs an appropriate size for your garden and avoids the potential of disease or pest infestation. By thinning out growth, you are encouraging good air circulation, and helping to protect your plants from fungal infections and allowing natural predators access to your plants to remove any pests lingering in the dead wood.

You will need clean, sharp tools. When cutting make your cut about 1/2 cm above the bud at a 30 degree angle, so any rain will run off. RenewEL regularly maintains a portfolio of private and public gardens in East London. If you would like any help maintaining your garden, please leave your details in the comments below, give us a ring, or reach out to us on social media or email.

Image credit: The Gardener, Vincent van Goch (1889)

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