Frosty days are ideal for pruning

Apple Redlove in April.
Apple Redlove in April.

It’s been a typical start to the gardening year for me so far, with occasional short working periods outdoors, which is so important for the morale, backed by the relatively warm and cheerful inspection of the cold greenhouse.

The few frosty mornings we’ve had when the ground has been quite solid were ideal for pruning, and first up were the apples.

Redlove apple is pruned.

Redlove apple is pruned.

Mine are all trained to a spur system, which involves all lateral growths being cut back to three buds in January.

I look upon this as the definitive pruning action which sets the trees up for flowers and a fruit crop later in the year.

Way back in August last year came stage one of pruning, when all the long side shoots were reduced to 15cm to encourage ripening of the wood and fruit bud development.

Now it’s completed, we can look forward to the spring floral display, not least from the deep pink flowers of Redlove apple.

Weigella Florida Variegata.

Weigella Florida Variegata.

Distinguishing between the pointed growth buds and more rounded fruiting buds is relatively easy right now.

It is also interesting that once any fruit tree, apple especially, has been spur-pruned for several years, you can almost tell at a glance exactly how far the previous season’s growth has to be cut back and act accordingly.

When the ground has been sound under foot, it has allowed access to the border and summer flowering shrubs, some of which also need pruning.

Two lavatera (Barnsley and Olbia Rosea) and a buddleja davidi were reduced in size going into autumn to prevent wind-rock loosening their roothold, then last week they were given definitive pruning. By cutting these summer giants down to knee-height, which seems drastic because they’re both capable of two to three metres’ growth in a year, we encourage new wood and extend their life-span.

In leaving a modicum of old stem, we guard against severe frost rubbing out premature soft growths.

Other summer shrubs, spiraea billiardi, escallonia and weigela, only require fine-tuning and this is the time to do it. The long, spent flowering stems of a pink spiraea could have been removed in autumn but it’s worth waiting until the leaves have gone then you can get a good view of any deciduous shrub’s shape.

Pruning spiraea is similar to that of blackcurrants – remove spend wood at a point where vigorous young stems have emerged.

We have evergreen escallonia shrubs in various parts of the garden and two of those are standards around seven feet tall.

Over 12 years, the main trunks have become quite sturdy and it’s just as well because each supports a large ball of top growth, which is reduced by half in winter.

Two weigela shrubs are completely bare at present but, come springtime, the variegated leaves will appear followed by lovely pink flowers that last well through summer.

Light pruning over two years has encouraged some congestion at the heart of each specimen so I have to thin out the old wood and weaker crossing branches.