First job for the year - Pruning.
When to prune, what to prune, where to prune – it can feel like a bit of a minefield at first, but once you have mastered a few basics then it’s one of the best ways to get the most out of you plants.
There are six key reasons why it may be beneficial to prune:
• To encourage new growth
• To control size
• To improve shape
• To maximise crops
• To promote flowering
• To maintain health
January, while most plants are dormant, is a great time to prune both apple and pear trees and also to tidy climbers and shrubs that may be damaged during winter storms and high winds. A sharp pair of secateurs are a must so this is also an ideal time to get your gardening tools in top condition before things get really bus in the Spring.
Climbers such as wisteria, which have produced long new growth since their post flowering summer prune will also really benefit from being kept in check - cut back the new-growth tendrils to just two or three buds, or if you want to keep the new growth to cover a wall or structure take the opportunity make sure it is securely tied in – use a pergola to create a spectacular wisteria ‘walk’ or a simple arch to get a similar effect on a smaller scale.
Other climbers can look equally impressive when properly trained - Shrub and climbing roses can be cut back to improve their shape and encourage vigorous new growth - prune stems that have flowered to around one third of their length, cutting above an outward facing bud and tie in any new shoots to an arch or screen for a curtain of flowers in the early summer.
Late flowering (Group 3) clematis such as Jackmanii can be cut back to 25-30cm from the base but Spring flowering (Group 1) clematis such as Montana and large flowered (Group 2) such as Nelly Moser can be left unless they get too unruly only need to have straggly shoots trimmed or tied in.
‘Renovation’ pruning can revive plants such as viburnum and mahonia which can often become large and unproductive if left to their own devices. Remove up to a third of the oldest wood, right down to the base, leaving the rest to flower. Other larger flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas or buddleia should ordinarily be left a month or two until the temperature starts to climb, but if there is a risk of wind damage you can cut them back by a third, then another third in February – covering them with fleece after pruning is a good idea to prevent too much shock if the weather is particularly cold.
Finally, apple and pear trees can be cut back in winter – although stone fruit trees should not – and will be stimulated by the concentration of sap flow to produce strong new growth. Remove any damaged or overlapping branches and then prune back last season’s growth to between 4 and 6 buds from the base of the sideshoot. Finally cut the main leader at the top of the tree to around half – cut on an angle just above an outward facing bud to help create an open shape.
A day spent working on the structure and foundations of your garden really does help ensure the best fruit and flowers in a few months time – and it can feel like the turn in the year when all eyes are on the exciting season ahead!