Tips for winter pruning dormant plants

Winter's a great time to get out in the garden to prune dormant plants. In doing so, you can control their size, improve their shape and increase their productivity, resulting in better fruit and more flowers.

Pruning some plants at the wrong time can cause sap to bleed from the wounds. When the sap is rising in spring, certain plants like figs, birches and grapes can bleed profusely. This loss of sap, especially if prolonged, can weaken the plant and in extreme cases may cause death. Instead, prune these plants in winter when they’re fully dormant, so the cuts don’t bleed excessively.

Make the right cuts, with our quick tips for winter pruning dormant plants.

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Use a pruning saw for thick branches

Use a pruning saw on thick branches to make the cut as clean as possible. Using the wrong tool could give a ragged cut that's more susceptible to disease or dieback. Make the cut just beyond the branch’s collar, rather than cutting flush with the main stem, as this would leave a larger wound.

Ensure wounds heal well

If you prune in winter, the wounds should heal without bleeding, as plants are dormant. Winter pruning also gives them less of a shock than being chopped in full flower. To ensure rapid healing, leave clean, smooth wounds, and don’t apply sealant. They should callous over before growth begins in spring.

Tidying up acers

Acers shouldn’t need drastic winter pruning. Just remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches, and any that spoil the shape of the tree. If you notice a dead stem when the tree is in leaf, mark it with a piece of ribbon so you can prune it out in winter, as it can be hard to spot dead stems when all of them are leafless.

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