Now’s the time to sharpen your loppers, pruning saw and secateurs and prepare plants for the best show possible this season – and a lot of it is down to the correct pruning.
Late winter is generally taken to mean February but like all gardening tasks, you can extend that into March.
So why prune now? Cutting a plant back when it is dormant or just starting into growth means all the energy can be put into developing fruit, flowers, etc.
It’s mostly for fruit trees, canes and bushes, late-flowering deciduous shrubs and clematis.
1. Apple and pear trees: winter pruning can be quite complex, so find out where your tree bears its fruit – spurs, tips or partial tips. Don’t over-prune or you’ll get a mass of water shoots that won’t bear fruit.
2. Autumn-fruiting raspberries: cut canes to ground level and thin if required.
3. Gooseberries: remove dead and low-lying shoots. Spur prune side shoots to one to three buds from the base. Shorten branch tips by a quarter, cutting to an outward facing bud.
4. Currant bushes: aim to remove older wood, leaving young shoots, as this is where fruit forms. Remove weak shoots, to give six-10 healthy shoots.
5. Late-flowering deciduous shrubs, such as Buddleja davidii. Flowers form on the current year’s growth, so hack back hard for the best blooms.
6. Shrubs grown for winter bark/stems or young foliage, such as dogwoods (Cornus) and Eucalyptus gunnii: cut back hard every 2-3 years or to your required shape.
7. Late-flowering clematis (Group 3) – these flower on this year’s growth, so need to be pruned back hard in late winter. If not cut back, flowers will appear higher and higher up the plant.
8. Large-flowered clematis (Group 2): they flower in May/June. The aim is to develop a framework of old wood and stimulate new shoots to promote flowering throughout the season. Can also be cut back after flowering to promote another flush of blooms later in summer.
However, it’s not for everything. Steer clear of anything that flowers early – shrubs like Forsythia or Group 1 clematis like C. montana. Prune these AFTER blooming.
Also avoid pruning anything in the Prunus (cherry) family, as they can fall victim to silver leaf disease if cut back in winter.
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JOBS TO DO THIS WEEKEND
Dahlia tubers stored over winter (or bought this year) can be started into growth. Place them in a light, warm place to sprout before planting. They will need misting with a spray bottle to stop them drying out.
Divide and/or plant bulbs-in-the-green, such as snowdrops (Galanthus) and winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis).
Prepare beds for new roses when conditions allow. Avoid wet days and frozen ground.
Clear up weedy beds before mulching. Lighter soils can be mulched now, but heavier soils are best left until March when the soil is warmer.
Top dress spring-flowering alpines with grit or gravel to show off the plants and to help prevent stem rots. Remove dead leaves from around the basal rosettes of alpine plants to prevent rotting.
Cut out the top rosette of leaves from the leggy stems of Mahonia x media cultivars to encourage branching.
Mulch and feed shrubs, trees, hedges and climbers after pruning, to give them energy for the extra growth they will put on after cutting back.
Begonia, Gloxinia and Achimenes tubers can all be planted this month. Begonias and Gloxinias need to be planted hollow side upwards; Achimenes can be planted on their sides, in trays if necessary, before potting them once growth appears.
In cold frames, greenhouses or polytunnels, sow beetroot, broad beans, summer and autumn cabbage, carrots, kale, leeks, lettuce and spring onions. These can all be sown in trays or plugs to be planted out towards the end of March.
Start sowing bedding plants such as Impatiens, Viola and pansies in a heated propagator. Transplant when seedlings are forming their third or fourth leaf. This can take anywhere between four and six weeks.