Time for cutting remarks

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IT’S December, plants are dormant and it’s time to start pruning. It’s not as daunting as it seems, providing you follow a few basic guidelines.

PRUNING, especially in the winter when you don’t really want to go outside at all, fills most people with dread.

For a start, it appears complicated and confusing.

It’s one of those things you can’t second guess and you really need to follow the rules for.

I’m not embarrassed to say that after 30-odd years of gardening, I take my old faithful manuals outside with me to remind me as I go. (This is why they’re in such a state – why can’t all horticulture books be laminated?)

So why is pruning at the right time and place so important?

Get it right and you’ll improve the yield of flowers and fruit on trees and bushes; get it wrong and you’ll miss out on a crop for at least a year.

One of my apple trees suffered from the hands of a nameless relative, who hacked it back it its main branches. It took three years to bear fruit again.

It’s vital to use the right tools. A blunt pair of secateurs really won’t do for a tree.

Everything must be sharp, so the cuts are clean.

Any tears at the base of cuts are just asking to be infected.

Your main tools are going to be telescopic-handled loppers (for medium-sized branches) and a pruning saw (for thicker boughs).

Winter’s also the ideal time to assess the health of your plants.

They are dormant, so the first thing to do is remove any diseased or dead branches.

With deciduous trees, like my whitebeam, you can see any cankers (knobbly growths) or crossing branches that rub (where disease can enter) once the leaves have fallen.

If you do nothing else, remove these.

Not only will this open up the crown of the tree, it will prevent diseases from entering via rub wounds where the bark is removed.

The only other thing left to remove is any branch that’s awkwardly placed. Using the pruning saw, make sure you cut as flush to the trunk as possible. Cutting from the top, when three-quarters of the way through, start to cut from the bottom until the two cuts meet. This prevents leaving a splintered lip of bark which can easily become infected.

It’s also wise not to try and prune all your plants at once. You’ve basically got from now until February to do most things.

Take your time and get it right.

Last weekend, I just pruned my sunberries and the whitebeam.

I’ll be covering blackcurrants, apple trees and clematis in future columns.

TO prune blackberries and other hybrid berries (tayberries, etc), simply remove all fruited canes at the base with sharp secateurs.

If you’re unsure which canes are old, look for the remnants of the fruit clusters. New growth also usually has a white “bloom” on the stems.

Tie in any new growth to a firm support (wires or a trellis) and space out evenly.

Wear gloves, as most are extremely prickly and the canes can grow up to 10ft in a year.