After the youthful exuberance of spring, some plants may have started to extend beyond their allotted space in the garden. In their eagerness to grow they can become untidy or tangled with crossing branches and dense, impenetrable foliage. Following winter, there may also be areas of dead or diseased wood that look unsightly and need removing.
Summer is the perfect time to prune away this old or excessive growth, ensuring plants remain healthy, productive and good-looking for the rest of the year and beyond.
Here's a quick list of the main pruning tasks that can be done in between late June and mid August to help you keep your garden under control. The best timing for all gardening work depends on the weather and where you live. Don't feel obliged to do everything at once: pace yourself as most pruning tasks will wait a week or two if necessary.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs like forsythia, philadelphus, lilac and deutzia as soon as they have finished flowering. By removing about a third of the old stems at the base of the plant you will improve the health and vigour of the shrub, encouraging strong new flowering shoots to sprout.
- Trim vigorous climbers such as honeysuckle, jasmine and wisteria to keep long, whippy stems under control. Count 3-4 leaves from the old growth and trim just above a leaf, leaving a short spur of new wood. If there are longer shoots you want to keep to create a framework, tie these in with soft twine while they're still soft and pliable.
- If you have fruit trees, take long, lush growth back to 2-3 leaves and this will encourage the tree to produce more flowers and fruit next year. There's definitely an art to pruning fruit trees - if in doubt, seek more detailed advice before brandishing your secateurs!
- Trim hedges once the new stems start to toughen up and the once-fresh foliage becomes a similar colour to the old. These are indicators that growth is slowing and maturing. Take care not to cut into old, bare wood unless you've checked that the plant will regrow successfully. Some shrubs such as lavender will suffer or even die if pruned too hard. Others, like yew, have an amazing ability to regenerate.
- Reshape camellias and rhododendrons if they have become untidy. Take out any dead, diseased, crossing or straggly branches. Evergreens generally don't need a lot of attention so prune only by exception to maintain a pleasing shape.
- Tidy up rambling roses by removing thin or tangled stems once they stop flowering. Then take away about a third of the flowered stems and tie in the remainder to strong supports. This can be fiddly, awkward work and it's important to protect your arms and face from flailing, thorny stems.
With just 5 essential tools in your shed you can tackle most year-round pruning tasks safely and with ease. Here are my suggestions:
1. A pair of snips for detailed work
Snips are suitable for cutting stems, twigs and branches up to 0.5cm in diameter. Use them for pruning bonsai, detailed shaping, thinning grapes, trimming herbs and for cutting sweet peas.
2. Versatile secateurs for everyday use
Secateurs are one of the most useful tools you'll ever own. They're suitable for cutting stems, twigs and branches 1-1.5cm in diameter. Use them for pruning roses, perennials, fruit trees, shrubs, climbers and for everyday deadheading.
3. Sharp shears for happy hedges and top topiary
Shears are suitable for cutting fine stems and shoots up to 0.25cm in diameter. Use them for trimming hedges, tidying shrubs, clipping box, lavender and topiary. They can even be used for cutting small areas of lawn, especially if it's been left to grow a little longer to encourage wild flowers.
4. Lengthy loppers for bigger branches
Loppers are suitable for cutting stems, twigs and branches up to 2.5cm in diameter. Use loppers for pruning trees and shrubs, for coppicing, pollarding and gentle reshaping or mature, woody plants.
5. A light saw for heavy pruning
A pruning saw is perfect for cutting stems, twigs and branches up to 7cm in diameter. Use it for removing dead wood, crossing branches and for major reshaping.
If used correctly and sharpened regularly, good tools will give you a lifetime's service: they could even become family heirlooms!
For my full range of personally recommended pruning tools, click here.