Healthier plants at a snip - how to prune

By Martyn Cox

If the thought of pruning shrubs fills you with dread? Take heart, you are not alone.

For many people, pruning is a mysterious art and plants are allowed to grow rampantly rather than given an annual trim. But there is no need for pruning to be a tricky task - with a little bit of knowledge, and a pair of secateurs, it is easy to tackle most garden shrubs.

Why prune?

There are several reasons why it is important to prune evergreen and deciduous shrubs. If a plant becomes a tangle of overgrown branches it is more likely to succumb to pests and diseases, and will become less vigorous, resulting in a poor display of flowers.

Cutting back regularly also helps to maintain an attractive shape and prevents plants from suffocating more compact neighbours, such as flowering perennials.

In small gardens, where space is at a premium, pruning is also necessarily to keep the plant within bounds.

When to prune?

This will depend on when the plant flowers. Lavender, roses, fuchsias, caryopteris, buddleja and other shrubs that flower on the current season's wood should be pruned in early spring - this will give them plenty of time to form new branches that carry summer blooms.

Shrubs that flower in early summer on wood formed the year before, such as philadelphus, weigela and deutzia should be trimmed when blooms fade.

Evergreen shrubs are best pruned between late spring and autumn.

How to prune?

  • Although some shrubs need specialist treatment, all of them can have the three d's removed first - dead, damaged or diseased wood.
  • Next snip out thin, whippy growth and if the plant is heavily congested, remove one or two of the older, thicker branches as well - this will allow air to flow freely through the plant.
  • Shrubs that flower on new growth can be pruned quite hard and many, such as buddleja and fuchsias, respond well to be cut back to a low framework, leaving one or two buds per stem - cut cleanly just above the bud.
  • Patio, cluster and large flowered roses can be reduced by two thirds - prune just above an outward facing bud, making a sloping cut away from the bud. This will prevent water from running into the bud and causing it to rot.
  • Other plants to prune in spring include dogwood or cornus, which are grown for their colourful winter stems. These can be cut back hard, to leave about two sets of bud per stem.
  • Overgrown mophead and lacecap hydrangeas can be tamed as the buds begin to swell - remove all of the old flower heads by cutting to the nearest pair of healthy buds.
  • Evergreen and deciduous shrubs that flower in early summer can be treated less harshly. Prune to keep within bounds and to maintain an attractive shape.


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