Beginners Guide to Pruning - Winter jobs in the garden December 06, 2016 10:24

Rubbing branches of apple tree: Pruning tips: Denys & FieldingWhat is it about pruning that makes me feel nervous?! After all, a snip here, a little cut there is hardly likely to kill off a prized pear or a gorgeous grape. They are made of tougher stuff. But I always feel better if my Dad comes over and supervises. Or rather, just gets on with it while I watch, collect the fallen twigs and stems and basically sweep up after him. 

Which is exactly what we did last week. Now is the perfect time for a winter prune. Most of the garden is dormant, sleeping off the summer and getting ready for the next hurrah in Spring. If, like me, you have a wobble at the idea of winter pruning, here is a quick recap of what to look for and where to snip... 

Apple Trees

My apple are sweet little trees, perfect for a small garden. But a good haircut gets them back in shape and looking great. Key things to look out for are: 

  • Rubbing branches. If you have branches that have crossed over and are likely to cause damage to one or both of them, take one out. Pruning fruit trees - advice and tips from Denys & Fielding
  • Branches growing back towards the trunk of the tree: Remove anything that is heading back on itself. 
  • A usurper: Like most modern garden fruit trees mine are grown on the spindle bush form, with a central leader on the semi-dwarfing M26 root stock. These Fruit trees have one 'leader' - a tall upright branch emerging from the top of the main 'trunk'. If you have another that is vying for position, whip it out before it gets too big or threatens the existing leader. Alternatively, if revolution is on the cards and you want to change the leadership, either for a more healthy looking branch or to complement the overall shape of the tree or to accommodate a branch that has more fruit buds than leaf buds, go for it. Liberte! Fraternite! Egalite!
  • The weak and the weary: broken branches, branches that are touching the ground and any branches showing signs of disease are best removed now.
  • Leaf or Fruit? You may already have a tree full of little buds and these will fall into two categories. The larger ones will become blossom and the smaller ones will become leaves. Try to retain as much fruit bud as possible because you never know at this stage just how good or bad the pollination conditions are going to be next spring time. 
  • Support your sap: When I first bought my fruit trees they were very young specimens. The sap in an apple tree is always in a rush to get to the highest point in the tree. To restrict this, I used garden twine tied onto the branch and then staked to old tent pegs dotted around the tree to gently bend young, pliable branches downwards to become more horizontal than vertical. The tree responds to the restriction by creating more blossom buds, which with a little sunshine in Spring and a visit from the bees means more fruit... hooray! 
  • Pick your perfect pruning spot: "Always cut back to something". For fruit trees this normally means a bud. Cutting back neatly to a bud or a branch without leaving a stub or snag helps to reduce the ingress of nectria canker and bacterial die-back.

Once you've completed your prune, give your tree a little treat. Clear away any grass or debris that has collected under the tree and add a few spades full of mulch or manure around the base. It will love you for it and awake from its slumber bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to blossom.

Fruit bushes:

Gooseberry Bush Pruning: Denys & FieldingI have a gooseberry bush that is great for a zingy, sharp pudding. To keep this and other soft fruit bushes in order, aim to create a wine goblet shape with the branches and stems. Fruit will emerge from new growth rather than old wood, so feel free to oik out anything looking a little war weary and decrepit. You can see here that is exactly what my Dad is doing in the image to the right of the screen - removing an old, obsolete 'woody' shoot that is dominating the middle of the bush. Removing it will not only promote growth for the other, younger shoots, but it also creates light and air in amid the bush. Breathing space if you like. Important in terms of growth for all of us, blackberries included. Remove anything looking wispy or weak, keep an eye on the 'cut back to something / bud' rule and voila, you are done! 

Vines 

how to prune a grapevine - tips and advice from Denys & FieldingCommercial vineyards in Kent are becoming a regular thing. We have at least two near us. The mix of rain and summer heat make for great vine growing conditions. We inherited a sauvignon grapevine when we moved in. I love it but its an all or nothing kind of dude; spreading rapidly and has since gone slightly wild on us. A good prune was well overdue. Our grape has a main trunk (albeit a short one) with rods, or cordons coming off and an unwieldy amount of spurs and canes. Grapes are produced on the current years growth. So Dad got ruthless with the rest and my vine had the haircut of its life. In fact, I'd say 'scalping'. The 2 rods, one to the left and one to the right of the main trunk were left a lot longer  than the commercial growers would leave them as the vine provides privacy along the garden fence as well as fruit. Each spur was reduced down to have just one cane. Each cane was cut down to one bud. While Dad got serious, I tied cordons back onto the fence to give it a little more support. Very technical this part. Bows are purely optional...! 

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