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blog post - pruning

I’d hazard a guess that ‘hacking it back’ rarely achieves the desired result. This technique is usually employed when a plant becomes too big for its spot - blocking the sun to a neighbours garden or crowding out other plants in the border. In fairness, this isn’t usually the fault of plant. Blame is much more likely to be attributed to a planting that was made with the best of intentions but was, ultimately, badly thought out.

Correct pruning is a valuable garden skill and you won’t find ‘hacking it back’ among the long list of pruning techniques on any website or textbook. Pollarding and coppicing may seem to fit this description but even these techniques follow rough guidelines in terms of how, when and what plants can be cut back in this way.

Topiary is the art of training plants, usually evergreens such as box, yew and japanese holly into artistic styles and shapes. But I often see a large number of garden plants clipped into neat balls in attempt to tidy them up or force them to fit their space. When used correctly, topiary is a fab technique to create structure and striking garden features but plants are organic and they should rarely be made to conform to fit in our neat little boxes. Often using this sort of technique incorrectly or on a plant that doesn’t respond well to being clipped into a ball will destroy its graceful habit or worse - I once came across a Camellia that had been clipped into a ball in the autumn. Camellias form flower buds on growth made in late summer and autumn. You can imagine what that meant for the flowers the following year! It didn't die but surviving isn’t a measure of success in my book. Thriving plants are. And proper pruning can encourage healthy growth, flowers, fruit and good looks.

When it comes to pruning - one size doesn't fit all. The good news is most plants fall into broad pruning groups and a little background reading will ensure you get the best from your plants after they've spent some time at the sharp end. These groups are put together based on when plants flower, on what they flower (old wood, previous or current seasons growth) and whether they are deciduous or evergreen. The RHS lists 13 separate pruning groups to group woody plants by their broad pruning principles. In addition to this list, you’ve got different techniques for roses (hybrid tea, floribunda, shrub, patio, climbers and ramblers etc), clematis (groups 1,2 and 3), fruit, wisteria etc. But contrary to popular belief, proper pruning is not rocket science. As long as you know what you want to prune - and by this I mean the latin genus and species - the internet will provide you with the theory in a matter of minutes. And once you know the theory, you just need to prune with confidence. And a sharp pair or secateurs, loppers and pruning saw where necessary!

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