Gardening is much easier and far more enjoyable when you know a secret or two.
Most of the enjoyment of gardening comes from the fiddly bits, the care, maintenance, and minor adjustments of the garden – as opposed to the bruises, tired muscles, and frustration, of the initial set up of your garden.
The secret I am going to discuss is pruning. Pruning is considered essential in gardening, as regards flowers, fruit, and keeping pests and diseases from taking over.
For many novice gardeners, pruning is a scary prospect, many believing that their pruning attempts will kill the plants. Let me clarify this, you certainly CAN kill a plant by pruning it, but this is generally only the result of over-zealous pruning. This is not some sort of contest between you and the plant, you are not supposed to be trying to “teach it a lesson, or two”, and it is not “war”.
Pruning is all about assisting the plant to produce desired results, like the greater abundance of fruit, or flowers; become more manageable; or, to remove diseased or damaged branches.
Plants such as Forsythia must have an annual pruning of old wood to help maintain the vigor and abundance of flowers each year. This is because pruning encourages new shoots, which are produced from the base of the plant. It is these new shoots that carry the flowers – next year! Left to go its own way, a Forsythia quickly turns into a tangled birds nest, becomes overcrowded, allowing little room for new shoots to grow and produce flowers. I recommend that every year after flowering has finished, a good one-third of the old wood, around the base of the shrub, is completely removed. This not only allows more room but also forces the plant to compensate for what has been lost. This is “pruning to vigor”, or “forcing”.
Ornamental fruit trees produce more flowers and fruit when pruned at the correct time of the year. A rough pruning guide is: most fruit trees should be pruned as soon as fruiting is finished, this will encourage new fruiting wood for the following season; while those that flower at the end of the season, should be pruned at the beginning of spring. Plants like roses are given a hard pruning in the winter to encourage new growth, then a light pruning after the first flush of flowers, to get ready for the summer flowering.
Many shrubs are grown for the color or pattern, of their stems, which need to be pruned at regular intervals if the color is maintained. A technique called “Coppicing” is used, where the shrub is pruned hard close to the trunk, or ground. This treatment forces a lot of new growth, thereby showing off the stem color or pattern. Coppicing is also used for wood production, used in the construction of temporary fences.
Sometimes as plants age, they can become a bit ratty and unattractive, or perhaps all the flowers or fruit is only produced too high up to appreciate. In these or similar cases, it is not a bad idea to do a bit of radical pruning – like a hard prune of about two-thirds of the plants’ height. This should only be done during the plant’s dormant period, generally winter. If you were to attempt such heavy pruning in the middle of the season, depending on the type and age of the plant – you may very well kill it if it doesn’t have enough reserves to recover. Hence pruning in winter, when most plants are resting. Pruning, normal garden care and general garden maintenance is the secret to successful gardening.