To the untrained eye, us gardeners are a fickle bunch. After enduring months of winter when plants lie dormant or unseen, no sooner are we rejoicing at the sight of new growth in spring, than we are sharpening our pruning tools to cut it off before summer’s out! While it might seem strange to be pruning plants in summer, controlling the growth of plants at this time has many benefits.
More summer pruning advice
Why prune now
For some plants, such as fruit trees and bushes, pruning ensures that the plant will put more of its energy into putting on growth that will result in flowering and fruiting. For others, such as wisteria, it not only encourages flower buds but helps create a neat plant that gives the best display of flowers. The thing with summer pruning is that it’s easy to forget to do it. Amid harvesting, lawn-mowing, sunbathing (maybe!) and watering, pruning can fall down the list of priorities. But take the time to follow the checklist, set reminders on your phone and clean and sharpen your blades, to ensure that your precious plants take up the right amount of space and give the best possible results.
What to prune now
The main aim of pruning fruit trees in summer is to remove vigorous new growth produced in the current year, to encourage the production of fruiting buds.
Cordon, espalier and stepover apples and pears
On established apple and pear trees, trim the new growth on lateral shoots back to one leaf once the stem has become woody. For trees in their first year, prune all new lateral growth back to three leaves and any sideshoots emerging from the laterals back to one leaf.
Plums (grown as untrained trees)
It’s important that plum trees are pruned in summer, not any other time of year, to avoid the risk of silver leaf disease. Cut off any awkwardly placed stems, cutting them right back to the base so that no ‘snag’ is left sticking out of the main trunk.
Cut back stems growing away from the area that is desired to be covered, trimming them back to a bud facing in the correct direction for the area that you want it to grow in. Also trim back sideshoots growing from the main framework of branches, cutting them back to five or six leaves.
Peaches and nectarines (grown as untrained trees)
In early summer, cut back the branches of peach and nectarine trees that are overlapping others and rubbing against them. Cut them off completely.
Fan-trained peaches and nectarines
Trim off any shoots that are growing away from the support and can’t be trained to it. Also cut off any new growth that has developed below the lowest trained stem, cutting it right back to the trunk. After fruiting, cut back each fruited stem down to the point where an opposite stem begins.
Cut out the growing tip of new shoots to five leaves so the fig tree can put its energy into forming embryo fruits.
Like plums, cherry trees should always be pruned in summer. Cut back new growth on all the sideshoots to five or six leaves to induce fruit bud formation.
These are perhaps the most easily forgotten plants, when it comes to those that need a summer prune. They are best cut back after harvesting to control space and encourage next year’s fruit, but it’s all too easy to harvest this summer’s crop, take it indoors and then forget all about the plants until next year! But pruning is vital or you will end up with gooseberries that are a treacherous, unpickable, thorny thicket, and currants that are woody and unproductive.
After blackcurrants have finished fruiting, cut out very old thick stems and a quarter of stems that are at least two years old. Cut them off at the base, flush with ground level. Also, completely cut off any very low-growing spindly growth.
In July or August, trim back the new growth made this year to two or three leaves from the base. If the gooseberry bush is congested, also remove a quarter of the branches from the middle of the plant to let air circulate through the plant. This reduces mildew and makes picking easier.
Shrubby herbs can become leggy and bare in the middle, if not regularly chopped to help maintain a tight, dense shrub. Pruning when flowering is over, will also help keep them in good health.
Use shears to cut back lavender once the flowers have all been picked, cutting back as far into the soft growth as you want. Take care not to cut back into thick stems by mistake or you can end up with a ‘patchy’ plant that has empty gaps, because lavender doesn’t shoot well from woody growth.
Use garden snips to cut back the shoot tips of sage to reduce the height of the plant, if it’s getting too big, but avoiding cutting into woody growth. This will keep the plant bushy and full of fresh new growth.
Use garden snips or shears to shape these plants, as desired, after flowering. I like to leave a nice dome shape, with the centre of the thyme slightly taller than the edges. Make sure that you don’t cut back into woody growth.
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Late winter and early spring is the traditional time to prune roses, but those that only flower once are best pruned in summer, after flowering, to improve their shape and increase their vigour. These include the rose types below:
These roses only have one flush of flowers, but many are worth growing for their sumptuous scent and timeless flowers (‘Mme. Plantier’ and ‘Ispahan’ to name but two), and they produce their flowers on the previous year’s growth. They can become very large, dense plants so pruning after flowering helps control their size and encourage more flowering sideshoots.
Cut back these once-flowering roses (such as ‘Charles de Mills’ and Rosa gallica ‘Officinalis’) once all the flowers have faded, because otherwise they can become a congested, tangled mess. Completely remove spindly sideshoots and a quarter of the oldest, thickest stems, if the rose is several years old. Reduce the length of the remaining sideshoots that come from the main stems by two thirds.
Other old-fashioned roses
Prune other once-flowering roses such as ‘Mme. Hardy’ and ‘York and Lancaster’ by cutting back the main stems by around a third to reduce the chances of strong winds damaging the roots of the plant. Then trim each sideshoot back by two thirds. You may need to trim again at the end of summer, reducing the length of any shoots outgrowing their allotted space.
Remove a quarter of the old shoots from rambling roses after flowering, cutting them off at the base (this might require loppers if stems are very old). Also trim back sideshoots from the main stem, reducing their length by two thirds. This pruning helps to improve air circulation around the plant, to reduce the risk of fungal infection, and also prevents the plant from becoming a thicket of congested stems. If allowed to grow unchecked, they can become rather a headache, and a vicious one at that!
Prunings can be shredded or composted or they can have other secondary uses. Woody, sturdy prunings can make useful markers on the veg patch, inserted into the end of the row if you’ve just made direct sowings in spare ground and don’t want to forget. They don’t have to be long, just enough to jog your memory when you’re walking past the empty ground.
Shrubs that flower on old wood need pruning after flowering in summer, to allow the current year’s growth time to mature ready for blooming in the following year.
Pruning these dainty-flowered spring and early summer shrubs couldn’t be easier. Simply cut off each flowered stem at the base of the deutzia. Cut flush with ground level to avoid leaving stumps which can make pruning awkward next year.
Cut back each stem that has flowered this year, once the blooms have faded. Cut each flowered stem back by a third to channel the plant’s energy into this year’s growth. This pruning will also stop the plants from getting ‘leggy’, which is a common problem with weigela that have been unpruned for a long time.
Flowered stems of kerria tend to be long and lanky, so shorten them with secateurs once the flowers have gone. If there are plentiful stems on the plant, completely remove the stems that have bloomed. If not, just cut the flowered stems back by a third until the plant has a multi-stemmed effect.
Trim back philadelphus stems that have just flowered, cutting them back by between a third and a half, and remove spindly stems that are struggling to hold themselves up. This will leave a framework of stems that will flower next year.
Some perennials that flowered in spring or early summer can be chopped back in summer to encourage new growth and keep the garden looking fresh.
Use garden shears to cut the whole plant back to just above ground level if it is outgrowing its space. This can be a problem with particularly vigorous hardy geraniums such as ‘Rozanne’ and ‘Ivan’. This pruning will result in a new flush of fresh growth and possibly a few more flowers towards the end of autumn.
Cut back the faded flower stems of delphiniums, down to the ground, as soon as the flowers have lost their lustre. This is to encourage a fresh burst of new growth to keep borders looking perky in late summer. You may also be rewarded for your endeavour with a fresh display of flowers at the end of August.
After a crescendo of cottage garden frothiness, that always makes spring go out with a bang, the flowers and foliage of this stalwart perennial soon look tatty. Cut it all back to ground level with shears in early summer and the result will be some fresh new foliage which is especially useful if you use Alchemilla mollis for edging.
Very vigorous climbers can end up clothing their supports with a mass of dense, leafy growth but not much in the way of flowers. Pruning in summer, to halt rampant growth, will help get a better balance between leaves and flowers.
Prune early-flowering honeysuckles such as ‘Belgica’, by cutting back the shoots that have finished flowering, shortening them by one third. Also cut back sideshoots to two to three buds from the main stem if it is outgrowing its space.
Prune flowered shoots as soon as the flowers have gone, cutting back to a strong shoot low down on the plant. You decide how low, depending on whether or not the jasmine is outgrowing its space.
Trim back the gangly, new growth of wisterias that has been made in the previous spring. Cut the shoots back to five or six leaves from the base, in July or August. This will encourage the plant to form flowers for next year, instead of more dense foliage.
By pruning wisteria that is growing against the front of a house, in summer, it will help prevent the growth causing potentially expensive trouble in the long run, by growing into gutters or down drainpipe inlets.