Tree and shrub pruning

Now is the time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs

Blog Pruning image

If you are heading into the garden during January, why not take a pair of secateurs along because now is the time to prune deciduous trees and shrubs.

With the festive season behind us, one of the first jobs to do in the garden is to tidy up your trees and shrubs.

The first thing to remember is that winter pruning should be restricted to plants that lose their leaves (deciduous), leaving the evergreens for warmer times so they won’t be affected by frost.

I often get asked how to prune, so I always tell people about the four ‘D’s: dead, dying, diseased and damaged. This material should always be removed first, regardless of any specific plant requirements.

The next thing is to have a good idea of what you want to achieve through your pruning. Most deciduous trees and shrubs have a natural shape and any pruning you make should be to enhance that shape. When I’m removing undesirable branches, I like to take my time and regularly step back to see the overall outline I’m creating.

The other two rules I like to follow are always cut back to a bud, as this encourages branching and only remove a third in any one year to help keep the plant healthy. Of course, some shrubs need to be pruned hard, such as Cornus (Dogwood) but this is usually done at the end of winter or beginning of spring.

In the productive garden, fruit trees and bushes can also be pruned now. Gooseberries, red and white currants need their dead wood and low lying branches removed, with branch tips shortened by a quarter and side shoots trimmed to one to three buds.

On blackcurrants, pruning couldn’t be simpler. They carry their fruit on the previous summer’s growth so you just need to remove the old fruited branches.

For Apple and Pear trees, the main aim is to create an open centre to encourage air circulation. This prevents fungal diseases and lets more light into the canopy to ripen fruit. You can then reduce the height and spread of the main branches by about a third to a main bud facing in the required direction.

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It’s important to have clean, sharp tools whilst pruning. A clean cut promotes healing and clean tools reduce the spread of diseases, especially canker. You can sterilise your blades between plants with alcohol wipes or by running them over a flame.

Once you have finished pruning, remember to wipe your tools down to prolong their life. After many years gardening, I can personally vouch for the old saying: Look after your tools and your tools will look after you!


With all these points in mind, it should be easier to tackle any pruning you want to do. It’s also nice to get outside and see what your garden is up to after being indoors over Christmas. Many public gardens, such as Hillier Gardens in Romsey, have Winter Gardens that are definitely worth a visit for some inspiration. You’ll be amazed by the range of plants that produce colourful stems or highly fragrant flowers at this time.

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