Diarmuid Gavin: Perfect pruning… Some plants benefit from a summer trim

Diarmuid Gavin: Perfect pruning… Some plants benefit from a summer trim


Pruning is often a problematic task for gardeners, one which confuses many. What to prune, when to prune it and why prune are often the questions asked at garden forums. So, let’s keep things simple and just deal with the type of pruning that occurs at this time of the year.

Pruning may be a project we associate with winter, cutting back in preparation for the busy growth of spring and summer, but there are a number of plants which either need or would benefit from being trimmed or pruned in summer.

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Wisteria requires a summer pruning. It’s putting on loads of vigorous growth since its early flowering and has produced acres of wandering whippy and wispy stems. Some can be trained to where you want it to twine but it’s so rampant it usually needs a summer hair cut. By doing this, you are encouraging it to use its energy into forming buds for next year’s flowers. The same applies to laburnum if you have it trained over an arch. Clip back to just above a leaf nodule.

Other climbers that are looking very tangled and messy can also be tidied up. I have a Solanum jasminoides which, if left untamed, I think would climb over the roof. Honeysuckles can sometimes lose the run of themselves, and if your Clematis montana has gone a bit unruly, you can shear unwanted growth away now. With Group 2 clematis, those that produce large blooms in early summer, you can prune back stems which have finished flowering to a pair of buds just below the spent blossoms and this will encourage new growth.

Hedges, be they conifer, deciduous or evergreen, can be trimmed during the summer if they are growing too wayward or just need a tidy.

Bamboos that have put on a lot of growth can be trimmed if they are getting too tall or starting to droop over pathways and getting in the way. And if you’re actively looking for something to do, a nice project is to trim some of the lower leaves of the bamboo away to expose more of the stem which is so decorative.

Fruit trees that are espalier- or cordon-trained can be summer pruned. This means cutting off new lateral growth back to four or five buds, allowing the plant to direct all its reserves to ripening the existing fruit and forming buds for next year. Apple and pears grown as trees can be left for winter pruning but it’s definitely the right time of year to prune plums and cherries, if they need it, as this is when the spores of silver leaf disease are dormant so chances of infection are much less. You can also tip prune figs to encourage bushier growth and more fruit buds.

Rambling and climbing roses can look messy now with lots of brown faded flowers – you can cut out the flowering stems and tie in new stems. Early summer flowering shrubs such as deutzia, philadelphus and weigela can also be pruned after flowering, or if they’ve outgrown their allotted space.

One more situation where you might wield your loppers is the removal of branches lower down a tree – it’s called raising its skirt and it can be a wonderfully effective way to give a new slim line look to a tree. I had cause to do so with a Salix caprea (goat willow) in my garden. It’s a medium-sized tree which I had under-planted with some shade loving plants in late winter when the tree was bare. However by mid-summer the tree was in full canopy and I needed to bring a little more light to the area so I removed several lower limbs. Doing so has transformed this little patch of the garden and renewed my appreciation of an ordinary native tree.


Top Tip

It’s a particularly good time to do your conifers but remember not to cut back into old wood as they won’t recover (yew being the exception to this rule).

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