Many garden plants benefit from pruning, but it’s important to prune at the right time of year, in the right way. Winter pruning takes place in winter, when plants are dormant.
The aim of winter pruning is to encourage vigour so that fruit trees are productive and shrubs don’t outgrow their space. This is the time to prune your roses, cut back clematis and reshape fruit bushes and trees. Once the leaves have fallen it’s easy to see a plant’s framework, and with our guides to some of the key plants to prune, it’s simple to get started. While plants are dormant, it’s also a good time to carry out renovation pruning, to revive plants that can become large and unproductive, such as viburnum and mahonia. Pruning in winter can also help control or prevent the spread of disease.
We list common plants that should be pruned in winter, below.
Grapevines are woody, deciduous plants, which ooze sap, or ‘bleed’ when they’re pruned. If cut stems bleed it can weaken the plant, so it’s important to prune them in mid-winter, when they’re deeply dormant. Other plants that bleed when pruned include acers, birches and figs. Prune in December or January, by cutting back to a main ‘rod’, or arm, that’s trained out vertically along support wires.
Cut all the canes of autumn-fruiting raspberries down to within 5cm of the ground every year, from autumn to late winter. This encourages them to send up fresh new stems that will bear fruit in the coming autumn.
Group 3 clematis
Group 3 clematis flower in mid-late summer. Prune in February by cutting the plant down to 10cm above the ground to remove long, old growth and encourage strong flowering shoots. Cut back Texensis and viticella hybrids to ground level before new growth emerges. Most other groups of clematis only need a light tidy up after flowering. Find out more about clematis groups.
Wisteria should be pruned twice a year, in December and again in summer, to keep it in check and promote flowering. In winter, prune all sideshoots back to three or four buds. Then after summer flowering, cut back all whippy shoots to 30cm.
Fruit bushes, including blueberries and blackcurrants, plus gooseberries and redcurrants should be pruned in winter. As a general rule, remove some old wood each year, creating a goblet shape, leaving healthy young branches that will produce large crops in years to come.
Cut back bush and climbing roses hard in late winter to promote healthy growth, flowering shoots and plenty of blooms in the summer. Many types of rose can be pruned in winter, including floribundas, hybrid teas, shrub roses and climbing roses. Rambling roses should be pruned in late summer, but can be renovated in winter. As a general rule, cut back thin, weak stems the most, and thick, vigorous stems the least. Aim to leave plants anything from 15cm to 45cm tall, depending on the original size of the plant and your preference.
Apple and pear trees
Apples and pear trees should be pruned from November to mid-March to encourage fruiting. Pruning will help encourage a good crop by channelling energy into the remaining buds. Aim to create a wine-glass shape, with evenly spaced branches rising up from the trunk in a circle around a hollow centre. Cut off any shoots at the base and remove dead, diseased or crossing branches.
Do not prune stone fruits, such as cherries or plums, in winter as they risk being infected by a fungal disease called silver leaf. Prune them in early or midsummer instead.
Deciduous ornamental trees
From November to March, remove smaller branches from ornamental trees to create a clean, bare stem at least 90-120cm tall. Remove branches that impede access or block mowing, but cut sensitively, thinning out rather than chopping back the whole canopy.
Deciduous shrubs should be pruned in winter, particularly those that grow too big for their allocated space. Renovation pruning will revive plants that can become large and unproductive, such as cotinus, berberis, flowering currants and magnolias.