By November the garden is well and truly into its dormant season. The days are short, though some of the sturdiest and most resilient short-day flowers like chrysanthemums may still be clinging on. You may also have the last of the autumn hips and berries on roses, rowans, hawthorns and blackthorns. And although these can all be pruned now, it’s best to wait for wildlife to finish off the fruits before you start.
This period of dormancy gives us gardeners licence to be bolder with our actions and to re-jig and tidy our gardens without too much fear of damaging most plants. We can dig things up, move them around and cut back most large shrubs and trees that need bringing into check a little. I would always recommend a little care with these big projects and consideration for hibernating wildlife.
If you can bear to delay until the end of winter, then do so. Some fruiting trees and shrubs can be tackled now, including blackcurrants, gooseberries and mulberries, but avoid pruning any Prunus, such as cherries and plums, to reduce the risk of silver leaf disease.
More pruning advice for autumn:
Plants to prune now:
While shrubs and trees are dormant, you can get started on winter pruning, especially on plants that bleed a lot of sap if pruned in late winter.
Acers bleed excessively if pruned in summer. They shouldn’t need much pruning, but if required, do it now while they’re dormant.
Blackcurrants fruit best on young wood, so prune out up to one-third of the oldest stems to encourage new shoots.
Prune mulberries before January to avoid bleeding. With young trees, remove any branches on the lower part of the trunk, to lift the canopy.
Hazels, sweet chestnuts and willows
To coppice these, cut right back to a stump or thin out the stems by one-third to one-fifth.
- Leyland cypress hedges: If pruned during winter, evergreens such as Leyland cypress hedges can suffer ill health or even die. They should generally be pruned no later than September.
- Lavender: Delicate Mediterranean and tender shrubs like lavender are susceptible to frost damage if pruned late in the year.
- Prunus: Plums, cherries, apricots, peaches and even the seemingly indestructible blackthorn are vulnerable to silver leaf disease. This is more prevalent in winter and can enter via pruning cuts.
- Shrub roses: Shrub roses are best pruned at the end of winter, although you can reduce their height a little now to avoid wind-rock.
Step-by-step: Pruning rambling roses
Although rambling roses can be pruned in late summer, after their show of flowers has finished, there are two reasons why it’s best to wait a little longer. Firstly, rosehips can be a valuable food source for birds – mistle thrushes, blackbirds and fieldfares all have strong enough beaks to handle them. Rosehips are full of goodness and useful to us too, for coughs and colds if cooked into a syrup.
The other reason is that if your rambler needs regenerative pruning, then the dormant season is the time to do it – between November and February.
Identify old, woody stems and cut them right down to the ground using loppers. Untie them from their support and remove them. Wear sturdy, thorn-proof gloves.
Shorten the sideshoots sprouting from the remaining younger main stems, cutting back to 2-3 buds to encourage more flowering laterals. This will encourage branching.
Tie any remaining loose stems into the support. Some of these can be trained in later to create a new framework and take over from the older stems.
Also prune this way:
Many woody plants that are grown as climbers, but have no way of clinging on for themselves, will occasionally need to be pruned and re-tied in a similar way. This helps to maintain an attractive framework, while shortening the sideshoots improves vigour and flowering. Prune after flowering if they bloom on the previous year’s growth or in late winter/early spring if they flower on the current year’s growth. Examples are camellias, ceanothus, chaenomeles, garrya and pyracantha.