OW is your garden looking, honestly? After the end of summer and the recent high winds and torrential rainfall, chances are it might well have got a bit overgrown and windswept.
So now is a great time to get the pruning shears out and get it back into shape before winter starts to bite.
Pruning properly now can have a huge impact on how your plants grow next year. It keeps them healthy, vigorous and balanced and stops large varieties from taking over the garden.
In autumn, plants retreat – dying back to conserve energy over the cold months. Even a little trim will help shrubs and trees come back stronger.
Hopefully it will also help to avoid them losing branches – and shape – when winter gales and frosts set in.
Pruning also lets you remove any damage or disease before it spreads. And the light it lets into the garden during winter will bring benefit to your other plants.
Your pruning toolkit should include gardening gloves, a nice sharp pair of secateurs, pruning shears, loppers for larger shrubs and a pruning saw for the largest branches.
A strong, stable step ladder on a good base is also vital (and ideally someone to hold it steady for you while you’re up it). Also make sure your tools all have strong, sharp cutting blades.
Damaged blades will make an uneven cut, with the danger of harming the plant and letting in infection.
Your local hardware store can normally put an edge on tools that have become blunt over time. To avoid spreading any bacteria around the garden, clean blades properly with Jeyes garden disinfectant after use.
For tall plants and shrubs that have softer branches, you want a pair of shears with long handles to extend your reach.
The real key to successful pruning is to plan. Don’t just jump in and start hacking away – that’s a surefire recipe for bare spots, wonky trees and disappointment next year.
Before getting to work, have a good look around and take stock of the garden and what needs pruning.
It’s best to always check pruning for your specific plant but as a general rule, deciduous trees and shrubs need a light pruning every autumn. Evergreen trees rarely need much pruning but the end of summer gives a good opportunity for you to remove dead and damaged branches.
A few varieties – roses for example – prefer to be pruned in late winter.
If you’re unsure, search online for the best pruning time for your plant. Try to decide on an overall shape before you start, so you know where you’re heading and when to stop.
I aim for a wine glass or goblet outline with trees, and a symmetrical shape with shrubs. If all else fails, work with the natural outline of the plant and aim for a balanced shape that suits the space it has available.
Remove one branch at a time and regularly step back to check your work. Once you’ve made the cut it’s too late to change your mind!
If you’re removing a whole branch, don’t cut it flush to the trunk – cut next to the branch collar (the swelling where the branch and trunk join).
If you’re shortening a branch, you should always cut just above a healthy bud, pair of buds or side shoot.
This is because new branches will grow from the next bud below the point where you cut. Aim for a gap of 0.5cm between your cut and the bud.
If you cut too close you may damage the bud – but if you leave too large a gap then the excess branch may rot and expose the plant to infections.
When cutting back a plant, the rule to remember is the “three Ds” – you need to remove anything that is dead, damaged or diseased.
Try to prune back to an outfacing bud – if you choose one that faces inwards, all the new branches will grow towards the centre of the tree, making it look tangled. If you can, make the cut at a 45 degree angle to stop moisture collecting at the wound. This will help it seal faster.
And before you start, check for birds’ nests and be sure to avoid branches carrying them – they might not be in use at the moment but many species return to the same nests year after year.
Lots of gardeners ask if it is necessary to use “wound paint” after pruning to seal the spots where branches have been removed.
Most trees will seal quickly and safely, especially if the cut is clean and water can’t collect on it.
The exceptions are plum and cherry trees – these are vulnerable to infection and should be treated.
As ever, if you’re unsure it pays to ask for advice at your local garden centre.
To get the best result, first remove any branches that are weak, rubbing, growing inwards or cross over each other. Then cut back overgrown branches to balance the shape.
Pruning is a simple autumn task that will protect plants through winter and help to keep your garden disease-free and your trees and shrubs will be safer in winter gales. And the fruits of your labour can help in another way too – use your pruned branches to create a log pile, providing a haven for insects and attracting wildlife into your garden.