Regular pruning of plants, by removing dead, diseased and damaged growth, keeps them vigorous and healthy.
Thinning the canopy lets light in and improves air circulation, reducing the incidence of pests and disease – without the need for sprays.
For more vigorous plants such as wisteria and buddleja, pruning can encourage prolific flowering and cropping, while cutting in the right place can train them into the desired shape for a controlled and tidy finish.
Most pruning is done in winter, but this isn't universal, so check the pruning requirements of your plant before you make any cuts.
Improve your skills with these tips for better pruning.
Use the right tool for the job
Pro-pruners prefer bypass secateurs over anvil types, which make clean cuts that shouldn't get infected. Use for stems up to finger-thickness. Use long-handled loppers on thicker or tougher stems, up to 3cm in diameter. For thicker branches, use a pruning saw. Alan Titchmarsh shows you how to choose secateurs.
Look after your pruning tools
Keep the blades of secateurs and loppers sharp and clean. Wipe off sap and debris after you finish using them, then apply oil to prevent rusting. Sharpen secateurs regularly with a fine file, occasionally spraying with an organic disinfectant to prevent disease transmission. Find out how to maintain secateurs.
Cut at the correct distance
Always make cuts just above a bud, but not so close that you risk damaging the bud. Don't cut too far above it, as water can get trapped in the stub and lead to rotting. As a general rule, cut above the bud at a distance of about a quarter of the thickness of the stem.
Get the angle right
Make cuts at an angle of 45°, so that the top of the cut slants away from the bud and in the direction that the bud is pointing. This minimises surplus tissue that might rot, and helps the top of the stem to shrug off water, directing it away from the delicate bud.
Prune to an outward-facing bud
When pruning a stem, the bud nearest the top of it will be the first one to grow into a new shoot. Select cutting points carefully – prune just above a bud that points in the direction that you want the new shoot to grow, at the height you want the new shoot to start from.
Cut back weak growth
Thick, strong shoots have more natural vigour than thin ones. Even up plant growth by pruning back weak stems harder, cutting them shorter than the strong ones. Where weak shoots have grown from the base, cut them out completely for strong new growth.
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Improve air circulation
Most plants, but particularly fruit bushes and trees, look better and crop better if light reaches the centre and air can circulate easily among the branches. They'll also suffer less from pests and diseases. Just remove any shoots growing into the centre of the plant.
Thin out problem branches
After clearing the centre, remove any shoots and branches that cross over each other and rub together in windy weather, as this wears away the bark. Thin out any of the rest that are too close together, removing the weaker or older stems and leaving the strongest.