Pruning is one of those ‘hardy perennial’ topics that I am asked about all year round. Many people are aware that winter is a key time but are not exactly sure what you prune in winter or how. In fact the most important thing to understand about pruning is Why? This is because not all pruning is done for the same purpose and this governs that time of year when you sharpen your secateurs, saw and loppers.
Winter is the time to prune trees and shrubs to create a strong open framework, removing any shoots that are heading into the centre, choosing well placed stems and cutting out or cutting back the rest. This is done while the plant is dormant and I recommend not removing more than one third of the wood each year. Best done while the plant is young, this type of formation pruning can also be used to recover an overgrown and neglected specimen. There is a specialized version of winter formation pruning when much more of the existing wood is pruned out and certain trees and shrubs are cut right down almost to the ground. This mirrors the ancient and traditional woodland management technique of Coppicing and is intended to provoke rapid regrowth of numerous tall straight stems from the base (or remaining trunk).
Be sure that this is the reaction that you want before taking drastic pruning action and check that the plant is of a species that will regenerate. If in doubt – look it up!
The exception to winter pruning is the Plum and Cherry family. These are very susceptible to fungal diseases taking hold through cut surfaces so all pruning is done in the growing season when flowing sap blocks the ingress of disease.
Happy Gardening, Alison
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