Carefully pruning bare trees can bring more light to your garden in winter.
We’ve been having a big clean-up over the past few days. The main aim has been to tidy overgrown shrubs and trees, but the big cut-back has brought a bonus as more winter sunlight is flooding into the garden.
In midwinter, when the sun is low in the sky, garden areas that are usually sunny can become shaded and damp. Plants may fail to grow or fall victim to fungal diseases, such as mildew or rot, and hard surfaces and lawns may be invaded with moss.
Winter is a good time to look for areas that have become overgrown or overshadowed and assess whether pruning the surrounding plants may allow more light to shine through.
While trees are bare, examine their branches and trunks. Look for broken growth or branches that are rubbing against each other that may need to be pruned.
Also check for invading plants. Climbers such as wisteria, jasmine, ivy and banana passionfruit vine can invade trees over summer. When a tree’s leafy canopy is discarded in autumn, evergreen climbers are easy to spot. Remove climbers that have invaded, as they can weaken trees and may cause branches to break.
While winter is a good time to prune and do maintenance, don’t take on more than can be managed. Don’t tackle large or high branches unassisted. Instead, call in a qualified and insured tree surgeon to do the job. Not only is it easy to do damage to a tree by pruning it badly but teetering on a ladder with a saw or chainsaw in hand has potential for disaster. Ladders lead to more accidents and hospital visits than any other garden implement in the shed.
Where pruning is on the DIY list, avoid damage and die-back by cutting branches flush with a main branch or trunk so the wound can heal naturally.
Look closely at the area on the trunk where the branch emerges. There will be a collar of growt+h (indicated by ripples or undulations in the bark) from where a tree can heal wounds. Cut to just above this area.
Cut large branches back in stages to reduce their weight and always use sharp tools for a clean cut. Undercut heavy limbs by making a cut below the branch before cutting from the top. This approach stops bark tearing on the part of the tree that is remaining. Torn bark can lead to die-back and may allow infection to enter the tree.
The plant’s response to being cut back is to send out new shoots, especially when spring arrives. Cut unwanted regrowth flush with the stem or original pruning cut and deter future growth by rubbing off new shoots as they appear on the trunk.
Suckers and roses
Winter is also a good time to remove suckering growth from below a graft union.
Suckers often appear around grafted ornamental and fruit trees, and on grafted shrubs such as roses – which brings up the thorny issue of rose pruning. In cold and frosty areas, delay pruning until late winter or early spring. When the weather is benign, roses can be pruned safely in midwinter.
The aim of rose-pruning is to remove old wood, including stems more than three years old. Remove old stems at the base of the plant. Cut back all other growth by about a third, cutting just above an outward-facing bud, then remove spindly and inward-growing branches to leave three to five main stems.
FOLLOW UP FOR ROSES
Gather all rose prunings and fallen leaves from around the plant and put them in the garbage (not the compost or green waste). Immediately after pruning and well before new growth appears, spray with lime sulphur to combat scale and rose diseases such as black spot.