Prepare your plants for spring this January
January is a great time to give your garden (and yourself) a well-earned rest. At the start of a new year, your plot will be gathering its strength and resources for the year ahead, just like you – so take the opportunity for a break and look forward to the delights of spring, which isn’t so far off now.
That said, a gardener’s work is never entirely done – year-round there are things we can usefully turn our hands to!
Late winter is the perfect time to think about pruning plants like roses, Wisteria and Clematis to help with healthy new growth of foliage, flowers and fruits, and to fight disease. Pruning is the removal of excess stems and greenery and lots of different types of plant benefit from this, because it allows the plant to direct its resources to where it is most likely to flourish.
Late winter is a great time to do your pruning because most deciduous shrubs will have dropped all their leaves, allowing you to more clearly see the shape of your plant. It’s a relatively easy job that’s well worth a few hours in the garden.
Note, different plants respond best to pruning at different times of year depending on when they flower. I’ve put together some general pruning tips below, and also given some detail about pruning roses (possibly the most demanding task!) – but if you’re not sure, just remember to do some detailed research before you begin.
Some general tips for pruning:
- Pruning is creating a kind of wound on your plant, so make sure your garden tools are clean and sharp.
- Try to choose a mild, dry day to prune on – water can spread diseases.
- Prune away branches that don’t add to or develop the shape of the plant.
- Start by removing branches that are diseased, cutting well below the diseased area and rinsing off your tools afterwards.
- Prune at an angle – preferably the same angle as where the branch meets the stem (this is known as the ‘branch collar’).
- If two branches cross, prune off the smaller one as long as the larger looks healthy.
- The centre of the plant needs sunlight and air, so don’t be afraid to make plenty of space for your plant to bloom!
Pruning roses: a beginner’s guide
Roses are a beautiful and varied addition to any garden, but they are also speedy growers that will become rambling, leggy shrubs if left to their own devices. It’s important to deadhead and prune your roses regularly, and take the opportunity to cut them right back when they’re dormant in the winter.
There are different pruning steps for each type of rose, so if you know your roses then it’s worth researching independently – but here are some go-to tips for pruning your roses for shapely, healthy plants next year.
- British rose breeder David Austin recommends keeping things simple with the four Ds system: remove any stems that are damaged, diseased, dead or dying.
- On stems that are flowering (where you can see buds in evidence), make sure to cut the stem no more than 5mm away from the bud.
- On younger plants (1-2 years of flowering), just cut back all the flowering stems by about three or four inches, then follow the four Ds.
- On older plants (three years and upwards) you may need to remove a lot more foliage – between a third and over half of the existing plant. Don’t be afraid! If you’re keen to keep the shrub from growing any further, you can happily trim away the lion’s share of the foliage – get all the stems the same length, and then follow the four Ds.
- On all plants, remove stems that are old, grey or woody, and if there are any crossing branches, remove the smallest one.
You may also want to check out this tutorial I filmed with Silverline tools, over on Youtube – click here for some expert tips.
Other garden plants that might benefit from pruning, cutting back or just a bit of a tidy up include Sedum, Hellebore, ornamental grasses and willows. Think of it as an early spring clean for your garden! You can also make use of cuttings to add to your compost heap for feeding your plants later in the year. Once your pruning is done, it’s time to make a cup of tea, relax and wait for the joys of spring!