Midsummer’s Day, and time to take stock of those shrubs which have finished flowering. One might say, “in June, we prune”. But why do it at all?
Pruning keeps shrubs tidy and within bounds; it shapes them; it removes the 3 Ds – damaged, diseased and dead material; it helps to maintain vigour in the plant, stimulating new growth; it promotes future fruiting and flowering. But it can be a daunting task for gardeners – some shrubs need barely any pruning, whilst others need cutting right back. Where to start? The main thing is to get to know your own plants well, to observe them closely, to learn when they flower and to know whether you are growing them for their flowers/stems/fruit/ foliage. All this will inform your pruning regime.
The basic rule is that early flowering shrubs, which flower before Midsummer’s Day, in spring and early summer, should generally be pruned immediately after flowering. So by mid June plants like Winter Jasmine, Forsythia, Kerria japonica and Ribes should already have been cut back to strong young shoots lower down. If not, do it now. The 3 Ds can also be removed. Other shrubs such as Weigela, and Philadelphus aureus are just finishing flowering around now, and need to be pruned before the end of the month. All these shrubs flower on growth made in the previous season, so over the rest of the year, they have time to grow this new material.
In contrast, late flowering shrubs – like Hydrangea, Sambucus nigra, Fuchsia magellicana, Summer-flowering Jasmine, Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’, and Perovskia – produce flowers made on the current season’s growth, and they should be pruned in March/April. These can be cut right back to a pair of buds close to the ground. If congested, 1 in every 3 stems can be taken out completely. Dogwoods are plants which also respond well to being cut back in late winter/early spring – lots of new stems follow with stunning, rich colours varying from yellow through to orange, red and green/black. Magnificent when grown in groups.
Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
Some plants like to be cut really hard back – Buddleia is one and Eucalyptus another. Evergreens, on the other hand, may only need a light cut in early spring just to keep them in shape. With short-lived shrubs like Lavender, Salvia and Rosemary, it’s very important not to cut into the old wood when pruning as this will kill them. Just cut back to the point where they flowered and go no further for now.
It should go without saying that all pruning equipment, be it secateurs, pruning saws or loppers, should be cleaned between each task, oiled and sharpened regularly. Polishing them is, frankly, just showing off. After pruning, always water, feed and mulch the shrub concerned. Poor thing, it’s had a shock.
So. Pruning. Part art, part science. Part knowledge, part experience. And, of course, part magic, part miracle. Simples.
Jobs for the week
Prune spring flowering shrubs
Refer to all the above, a good website, good books and other good gardeners.
Take cuttings of Lavender, Sage and Rosemary
Harvest Lavender for drying. Cut back Sage (above), Rosemary and Lavender to about 5 cms below the faded flowers. (Don’t prune back any further until March)
Cut back any wispy Wisteria growths to 3 buds
From the main stem.
For example, Sweet Peas – this promotes more flowers. Stake. Keep picking them too – so gratifying to be able to throw a handful of your home-growns into an old jam jar. Make sure you have it to hand every time you open the door to someone. ‘Oh, these? Yes, just picked. Charming, aren’t they?’
Pot up Chillies and Sweet Peppers and feed
In the greenhouse, once the Tomatoes have been moved out and there’s a bit of space.
Cut back hardy Geraniums
Once they have finished flowering. Most have by now. Feed and water to encourage fresh new growth, and, hopefully another later flush of flowers too.
Fill in any gaps with Salvias
They are a Good Thing under Roses as they seem to help prevent mildew and blackspot – particularly the small-leaved microphylla cultivars. (see Sarah Raven’s website on this). It’s also a good time to take cuttings – free plants!
Surprise! Bet you didn’t expect that, did you?!
Cut back leaves of Pulmonarias
And water them
Sow beans of the French and Runner varieties
These can be sown directly into the soil. Courgettes too.
Watch out for Vine Weevil