Ruth talks you through the trees and shrubs that can take a trim at this time of year
I wouldn’t exactly say I’m secateur-happy, but when I see something that needs a good trim I generally can’t wait to get out there and get at it.
A couple of shrubs in the garden have been causing that ‘snippy’ itch over the past few weeks including a plum tree with a dead leader shoot and a weeping ornamental cherry that has grown so large it’s trailing over the lawn and getting tangled in the perennial growing below.
Both needed a haircut but I had to put on my patient pants and wait until the timing was right. Conventional wisdom says we prune trees and shrubs in autumn and sinter when they are dormant, but there are several varieties that are trimmed in high summer.
These largely fall into two categories; those that are susceptible to silver leaf disease (see below) and shrubs that flower in early summer and create each year’s blooms on strong, young growth.
A third group are evergreen shrubs that are less hardy and more likely to have their cut tips damaged by cold weather if they’re cut back in winter.
As with all prunings, we start with the ‘three Ds’– removing stems that are dead, damaged and diseased. We then move on to overlong and straggly growth, aiming to create an attractive open shape that is healthier for the tree or shrub as it aids airflow and reduces the risk of fungal problems. It also allows more sunlight through to ripen away growing fruit.
If a shrub is really overgrown, you can either hard prune it all at once, which means it may not flower for a couple of years until it has grown back enough, or you can renovate it by removing a third of old stems at the base each year for three years.
This means you will still get blossom and fruits and will have the equivalent of a ‘new’ shrub after the third year as it all be made up of new growth.
When giving a light trim, cut overlong branches back to a pair of healthy leaves or a single shoot growing in the direction you want it to grow.
This week I have been kept busy cutting back our recently flowered philadelphus and weigela. I also checked over a variegated euonymus and found a small case of reversion, where the green-and-white leaves had been replaced by solid green foliage. This needs to be pruned out or it will eventually take over the whole plant.
Then it was the turn of an overgrown ornamental weeping cherry, an over-enthusiastic greengage and a ‘Victoria’ plum with a dead ‘leader’ shoot that needed to be removed (and a new leader trained in its place). These, like cherries, plum, apricots, rhododendron and laburnum, are pruned now to reduce the risk of silver leaf disease.
This disease is a condition caused by the fungus Chondrostereum purpureum, which has spores that are at their most active in autumn and winter.
Affected leaves develop a silvery sheen and their branches will then die off. When cut through, the branches may be darkly stained and older dead wood may develop bracket fungi with a white, woolly surface and dark, purple-brown underneath.
By running vulnerable varieties in summer you remove the risk of infection, especially as pruning cuts heal faster at this time of year.
Where silver leaf develops you must remove and dispose of the affected branch as soon as possible and thoroughly disinfect tools afterwards.
Let’s keep gardening!
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