How To Prune Like A Certified Green Thumb

What to prune in Winter

Everything you need to know on how to prune your trees and bushes properly without harming them.

As much as we try to avoid doing any sort of gardening in winter, simply because it’s too cold and wet, it’s actually the most important time of the year for pruning.

Why must we prune our plants? Pruning helps keep your plants healthy and encourages new growth for the next season. Removing dead or damaged stems stops diseases from spreading and prevents any unwanted insects hanging around.

To kick things off, we’ll first discuss the tools you are going to need for the job.

What tools you’ll need

  • Secateurs —  Great for removing small growths, deadhead flowers, stems and small branches. Use secateurs on stems and branches that are up to 10mm thick.
  • Handsaw —  Use the handsaw to cut any protruding or lower level branches that are too thick for secateurs. Make sure to cut the branch off close to the trunk on an angle, while avoiding to cut the main trunk. Usually used on branches that are 4 -6 cm in diameter. 
  • Pole pruners — You’ll need pole pruners to get into those hard to reach places. They are essentially secateurs on an extendable pole and give you that much needed power and leverage to prune trees.
  • Shears — Shears let you make very precise cuts for rounded shapes and are perfect for trimming hedges. 
  • Loppers —  The most second most useful tool to have in your gardening kit. It’s long handles and power allow you to prune higher levels with minimal exertion. Perfect for branches that are 2.5 cm or more in diameter.

What to prune in late Winter?

With the winter season finally coming to an end, it’s the perfect time to prune for both you and your plants.  Late-winter pruning promotes faster regrowth for spring, keeping your trees and shrubs healthy. Here’s what you’ll need to prune:

What to prune in Winter - frangipani trees, rose bushes and grapevines
  • Deciduous fruit trees; apple, pear, peach, apricot, plum, cherry, almond and nectarine
  • Roses are to be pruned mid-late July and completed by early August the latest.
  • Grapevines
  • Deciduous ornamentals and shrubs such as maple, ash, elm
  • Herbaceous perennials including windflowers, penstemon, catmint, bergamot and canna
  • Prune anytime: suckers, water sprouts, dead, diseased or damaged branches

Note: Do not prune Spring-flowering shrubs and trees until after flowering in spring. 

Pruning basics to get you started:

  • Sharpen cutting tools before attempting to prune to minimize the risk of tearing the bark.
  • Disinfect the tools between each plant to prevent diseases from being spread around the garden. Use disinfectant wipes or dip tools into a bucket of diluted bleach.
  • Make clean cuts near the node or close to the trunk. Don’t leave stubs on the side of the plant as this can allow diseases to get in easily.
  • Cuts should be made just above the outward facing bud to encourage new growth in a desirable direction, except for hedges, which are cut evenly over the outside.
  • Make sure to cut in stages when removing thicker branches, starting on the underside each time and then cutting from the top, preventing the bark from tearing.
  • Finish all branch removals just above the branch collar.
  • Trim jagged edges using a sharp pruning knife.
  • Seal all major cuts with a pruning compound.
  • Finally, make sure the plant is in good condition, aerate the soil if needed and water with seaweed tonic.

For more winter gardening tips and ideas, check out What Plants & Trees to Plant In Winter here or how to get rid of your weeds naturally.

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