As summer gives way to autumn, it is easy to think that everything in the garden needs cutting back ready for the winter. But in my garden I target only those things that will really benefit from being pruned at this time of year and leave as much as possible untouched. This means that I can enjoy the fading glory of plants as they close down for winter – eeking out the last vestiges of colour from deciduous leaves and even a few late flowers during mild weather.
Not only that, but wildlife can benefit too, with stems providing shelter and a place where the overwintering eggs of insects can survive to hatch and provide food for other creatures in the food chain.
More autumn pruning advice:
Autumn pruning inspiration
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With herbaceous perennials – plants that die down to a basal clump of leaves or disappear below ground – it’s a good idea to cut back the ones that flowered back in spring or early summer. This will not only make them look tidier now, but will clear the way for new growth early next spring.
As for the late-summer flowering kinds, I enjoy watching their stems and faded flowerheads gradually bleach of all their colour through the winter. After all, it gives me something to look at rather than bare earth. And they’ll look attractive when spangled with frost or snow in the darkest days.
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When it comes to my bush roses, I resist the temptation to prune them hard in autumn. It is a good idea to prune all the stems back by about half their height to stop them catching the wind too much, which can easily loosen the plants in the ground and damage their roots. The remaining stems will also help to insulate the plants from the worst of the cold weather – especially if it turns out to be a harsh winter. And then, come early spring – say the beginning of March – the stems can be cut back hard to between 3 and 5 buds from the base to concentrate energy into strong new growth.
Fruit bushes also benefit from the attention of my secateurs and loppers in autumn. I cut out three or four of the oldest fruited stems, as low as possible to the ground, on my currants and gooseberries. The strong, upright stems that have been made from the base during over the last couple of seasons are the ones to leave in place as these will produce fruit in future years.
Deciduous trees and shrubs
As for all my deciduous, ornamental trees and shrubs, autumn is the time when I cut out thin, weak growth – and any broken or crossing branches – now that the leaves have fallen and I can see what I’m doing. As with any pruning it’s important to cut back to a healthy bud or remove whole stems close back to a main branch or trunk.
And don’t forget to keep your secateurs and loppers clean and sharp so that you make the best cuts without squashing or splitting the stems. It’s better for the plants and it’ll make the job easier for you.