Winter Pruning – to cut or not to cut?
There’s a common gardening misconception that nothing much gets done during the winter months. A second one is that all pruning is done in the deep of winter. For some plants this is correct although by no means all, and in fact it’s too easy to kill a plant simply by pruning it at the wrong time. Too-cold cutting also invites potentially lethal diseases such as silverleaf, but that’s another story.
A good general rule of pruning is that if it flowers before the middle of June, prune it immediately after flowering. If it flowers later then wait until late winter or early spring before pruning. As with all plants, it is always advisable to check if you are unsure. Use well-established gardening sources; books, magazines and websites from organisations such as the Royal Horticultural Society and the BBC always give good, sound basic information, but as with all things, there is a great deal more online.
On a bright February morning, wrapped up against the cold but nonetheless basking in the welcome light of low and golden winter sunshine, her weak rays slowly warming up the earth, it was time to prune the Blackcurrant Sage Salvia microphylla, supposedly half-hardy although it behaves more like a fully hardy plant in my back garden, never getting cut down by frostbite or the like. Blackcurrant Sage is a marvellous flowering shrub whose deep green slightly furry leaves have a sweet, blackcurrant scent when brushed and amazing deep pink flowers which just keep on giving from spring right through the year. The bees love it. It’s easy to grow and easy to look after. But it likes a hard prune, especially in the first few years, and can be cut back very hard if necessary following a frost.
You’ll need a good pair of secateurs. As with most quality things in life, you get what you pay for. A cheap pair of secateurs may suit you perfectly well if you only use them occasionally whereas for a keen gardener it’s worth investing; good secateurs can be costly. My own personal preference is Felco No 6, ergonomic and made for smaller hands, therefore perfect for ladies.
A good pruning cut is a thing of beauty. It is a skill worth practising as it has to be done correctly in order for the plant to look beautiful, be productive and enjoy good health. The way you cut a plant is important and it’s worth taking a few minutes to learn good basic pruning skills.
This is the diagram that I was given as a young gardener back in the 80s….how time flies! It’s a good one; simple and self-explanatory. Always cut on a downward slope away from the bud or growing point. Rain needs to drain away. It will run down the slope so make sure your cut is sloping the correct way. A wet fresh bud will rot; cutting too close puts the new growth at risk of cold and disease; a long snag will die back and can eventually damage the entire stem.
Whilst you must always cut with caution, you need to cut with confidence. Don’t be afraid of your secateurs! Remember the golden rules of pruning and you will reap the rewards in abundant flowers later on in the year.
Text: Scarlett Cannon