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A lot of what needs doing in the summer garden involves cutting, snipping, pruning, chopping and shredding. Summer is truly a wonderful time of year if you have latent destructive tendencies that need to be channelled productively - or if you're a mad keen tidier and like whisking around making things look neat, whether that is in your garden or your allotment. But if you're new to this and need a little help with how to prune - don't worry - here is our guide...
Shrubs, like roses, hydrangeas, buddleia and others that flower in the summer, will enjoy a good cut back. There’s no mystery or magic to pruning; like a good haircut, a satisfactory prune will cut out the weak and dead bits, encourage new growth and give a better shape overall.
One word of caution - this time of year is also the time of romance for garden birds. You might spot them fluttering passionately in the bushes, or flying overhead with trails of straw in their beaks for nest-building or food for their babies. So lop and chop carefully, and don’t cut anything back too enthusiastically if you think there might be a nest of baby birds hidden inside. Leave that for later in the year, once the birds have fledged.
There’s a basic order to pruning any shrub, however overgrown and intimidating. Follow these easy steps and you'll have gorgeous, healthy-looking plants in no time.
Using a sharp pair of secateurs, cut out any bits that are dead or very spindly and weak taking them back to where they join a healthy branch. That should improve things straight away. Next, get rid of any stems which look sickly or spindly or brittle. Then cut back any branches that are crossing or rubbing on each other or growing in strange directions. Lastly, cut back the ends of the remaining branches to a point where you can see good healthy growth or to where the bush will make a good outline. Be cruel to be kind!
Now step back and look at the overall shape of the shrub. You ideally want to create a 'bowl' or 'cup', so the plant has a smooth outline, room to sprout in the middle, and air circulating around.
When you prune long stems, you 'break the apical dominance' – a complex term for a simple process. Each shoot has hormones at the tip, which make it grow long and straight. If you cut the tip off, those hormones are stuck. But they have to emerge somewhere, so instead they cause the stem to sprout side shoots. Result – a bushier, leafier shrub.
Give a stem a gentle prune, and it will grow gently; cut it back a long way, and it will grow out a long way. Whereas some shrubs love 'hard' pruning springing into revitalised life, others hate it and refuse to grow new shoots from old wood. These will need a gentle trim every couple of months instead. Check which sorts you have, before you go crazy with the secateurs.
And remember, with most shrubs, the pruning benefits us, not the plant. We give it a better silhouette, maybe a topiary look. We tidy the shrub, keep it off the paths. We maintain the appearance or colour. We boost flowering size or quantity. You don’t have to prune if you don’t want to – but your plants will look better for it. If you’ve got variegated shrubs, take a close look at them before you start pruning. Spot any shoots where the leaves are all green? These need cutting out completely, as otherwise your beautifully-coloured shrub will 'revert' – or turn completely green all over.
Do you need some help? Here is our guide to hiring a gardener who is right for your garden ideas.