Roots of a tree planted in large pot.

What You Need to Know about How to Take Care of Your Tree

To ensure a wide choice, buy your tree early in the season. Water it every day, and prevent needle loss by storing it in a shed, garage, or greenhouse with good natural light for a few weeks before bringing it inside. Display your tree in a cool place indoors, keeping it well watered, and repot it in the New Year.

When to plant: Late winter to early spring.

At their best: All year round.

Time to complete: 1 hour.

You will need: Large plastic pot, broken clay pot pieces, soil-based ericaceous potting mix, sturdy gloves, well-rotted organic matter – such as manure, all-purpose granular fertilizer, clippers.

Water well

When the festive season is over, store your tree for a few weeks in a shed, as you did before bringing it into the house for Christmas. Water it frequently, and don’t allow the soil to dry out.

Prepare a new container

Buy a plastic pot, which will be light and easy to move around, one size larger than the original container. Put some broken clay pot pieces over the drainage holes at the bottom and add a layer of soil on top.

Remove the tree

Wearing heavy-duty gloves, squeeze the tree’s pot around the sides to dislodge the root ball, and then slide it out. Place the tree in its new pot.

Add fertilizer

Check that there is 2 in (5 cm) between the top of the root ball and the pot rim. Fill in around the roots with soil mixed with some fertilizer.

Shape up

Water the tree well. Trim back the stems lightly with clippers to create a cone shape. If there are two stems at the top, cut one back to a bud to leave a single “leader.”

Tips: Trimming firs

Fir stems end with a three-pronged fork; to trim them, cut out the middle prong, which will stimulate bushy growth along the stem. Do not cut the single, main “leader” stem at the top.


Woman spraying pest solution on a plant.

How to Prevent Pests in Your Garden

By encouraging natural predators, following good garden practice, and making regular checks on your plants, you can keep many pests at bay. Aim to create conditions that support a healthy balance of predators and their prey, and you will limit the damage and need fewer chemical controls.

Keeping pests at bay

Pest patrol should begin when you buy new plants or accept leafy gifts. Unwelcome visitors also fly or crawl in from neighboring gardens, so keep your eyes peeled and take prompt action.

Reducing the risk

To prevent a plague of pests, avoid growing large areas of one type of plant. It is more difficult for pests to home in on their target when confronted by a variety of different plants, such as perennials, annuals, and shrubs, as well as herbs, vegetables, and fruit. The abundant nectar also draws in beneficial insects. Don’t overfeed plants because aphids love the resulting soft growth.

Be vigilant

Use a hand lens to scan flower buds, shoot tips, and the undersides of leaves for mites, aphids, and whitefly. Also look for grubs or nibbled roots when you take plants out of their pots, and search for caterpillars on rolled or skeletonized leaves. A night-time foray with a flashlight will reveal nocturnal pests, such as slugs and snails; seek them out during the day by checking under pots. Weed regularly, and look out for pest hideouts.

Garden friends

There’s often a frustrating lag between the appearance of pests, like aphids, and their natural predators, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverfly larvae. So, don’t be too quick to reach for insecticides, as killing off natural predators’ food sources may drive them away. Chemical pesticides also kill friendly bugs, as well as unwanted insects.

Identifying predators

It is important to recognize the chief insect predators; they are often the larvae of more familiar adults, like ladybugs and hoverflies, but some are quite different in appearance. By knowing what these larvae look like, you will be less likely to confuse them with pests, and may be able to move them to badly infested plants.

Some predators hide under leaf litter and bark mulch, and are invisible during the day, actively feeding at night. One example is ground beetles, which attack slugs. Visit internet websites to identify mystery bugs or try ask the experts at your garden center. There’s often a frustrating lag between the appearance of pests, like aphids, and their natural predators, such as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverfly larvae. So, don’t be too quick to reach for insecticides, as killing off natural predators’ food sources may drive them away. Chemical pesticides also kill friendly bugs, as well as unwanted insects.

Encouraging friendly beasts

Lure beneficial insects into your garden by providing hibernation sites, such as a log pile, and simple flowers, which attract nectar-feeding types. Grow leafy ground cover to shelter slug-munching frogs and toads, and add a small pond with grassy margins. Delay cutting herbaceous plants till spring for winter cover, and provide food, water, and nesting sites for birds.


Snail on a a big green leaf.

How to Control Common Pests in Your Garden

Slugs and snails are a nuisance for most gardeners, but simple preventive treatment, such as erecting barriers, encouraging predators, and using biological controls, can significantly reduce attacks in gardens. Tackle other pests with similar organic controls and guards to reduce the need for chemicals.

Slugs and snails

Although these are annoying plant pests, much of their activity, such as devouring rotting vegetation, is actually beneficial. Unfortunately, they do not discriminate and are equally happy to chomp through desirable plants and crops.

These nocturnal nibblers have rasping mouthparts, and chew the margins of leaves and petals, as well as leaving holes in them. They also strip off chunks of stem, causing young plants to collapse, and graze the skin and peel of fruit and vegetables.

Seedlings and any juicy young shoots of established plants, flower and leaf buds, and newly unfurled foliage are particularly vulnerable. Snails can climb up walls and tall plants to reach their food, while some slugs live underground.

Organic control

Check under and around the rims of pots, beneath ledges, in piles of rocks or logs, and on evergreen shrubs where slugs and snails roost, and pick them off. Beer traps will lure them in at night. Slugs and snails are also deterred by copper strips, which give them an electric shock when they pass over them, and cloches made from plastic bottles. If all else fails, sprinkle pellets sparingly around key plants.

Aphids

These pests are commonly known as greenfly, although other colors exist and some have a woolly wax coating. Aphid species number over 4,000 worldwide, and many favor specific plants. They reproduce rapidly in spring and summer.

Signs of attack

Shriveled and distorted shoots, leaves, and flowers are the main signs of aphid attacks. You may also see a residue of a sticky honeydew excretion, which can lead to black sooty mold. Also look for aphids’ white discarded skins, which they shed as they grow.

Aphids transmit viruses, and yellow mottling and color streaks in leaves and flowers indicate possible infection. These tiny insects give birth to live young that immediately start feeding, so soft plant tips rapidly become infested. Pinch off heavily affected shoots or blast them with water from a hosepipe.

Birds and small mammals

Mice and other rodents dig up spring-sown seeds in the kitchen garden, and in autumn munch on ripening fruits and gnaw newly planted bulbs. Some birds are also a nuisance, pecking flowers, pulling up seedlings, eating brassicas, and stealing fruit.

Avoiding devastation

Rabbits, squirrels, and pigeons can lay waste to newly planted beds, borders, and pots. To avoid scenes with plants ruined, erect barriers or netting, or cover seedlings and pots of bulbs with chicken wire. To prevent cats from scratching in the finely tilled soil of seed beds, lay thorny twigs across the surface, or insert short bamboo canes between crops or flowers. Sow large seeds, such as peas and beans, in pots away from hungry mice, and protect trees and shrubs with rabbit guards.

Tips: Biological control

Slugs, vine weevils, chafer grubs, and crane fly larvae can all be controlled with microscopic nematode worms that kill the pests without harming the environment. Mix the nematodes with water and apply at specific times of year, following the supplier’s instructions. Treatments may need to be repeated. You can buy nematodes to control a range of pests on the internet or via mail-order companies.


Earwig walking on a leaf.

How to Identify Common Pests

Gall mites

These microscopic mites suck sap and cause abnormal growths. These include raised pimples or clumps of matted hairs on leaves, or enlarged buds. Most are harmless and can be tolerated.

Box sucker

The wingless nymphs of box psyllids are covered in a waxy coat, and found inside the ball-shaped shoot tips in spring. Control the pest by cutting off affected growth and discard or burn it.

Codling moth

To avoid maggots in apples, spray emerging caterpillars twice using bifenthrin, starting in midsummer. Also hang pheromone traps in late spring to catch male moths and prevent them from mating.

Winter moth

In spring, the leaves of fruit trees are webbed together and hide green caterpillars inside. Holes are visible when leaves expand. Apply sticky grease bands to the trees and stakes in autumn to trap adult moths.

Scale insects

Tiny blister or shell-like bumps on leaf backs result in poor growth. Other symptoms are sticky excretions and sooty mold on evergreens. Wash off mold, and spray with plant oils, fatty acids, or thiacloprid.

Glasshouse whitefly

Under glass, hang yellow sticky pads to trap these tiny white flying adults, which suck sap from plants; use a biological control (Encarsia wasp) on larvae, or spray with thiacloprid or organic chemical controls.

Viburnum beetle

Both the adults and larvae eat holes in the leaves, mainly on Viburnum tinus and V. opulus; this can slow growth and looks unsightly. Spray badly affected plants in spring using bifenthrin or thiacloprid.

Thrips

These tiny black sap-suckers, known as “thunder flies,” cause white patches on the petals and leaves of indoor plants, and also peas, leeks, onions, and gladioli. Spray with bifenthrin or use biological controls.

Vine weevil

Small cream grubs with a brown head feed on plant roots, especially those growing in containers or with fleshy roots. This can cause plants to suddenly collapse. The adult beetle is nocturnal, flightless, and makes notches in leaves. Use a biological control (nematodes).

Caterpillars

The larvae of butterflies and moths attack many plants. Cabbage white caterpillars decimate brassicas and nasturtiums, while those of the tomato moth damage fruits. Cover plants to keep adults from laying eggs, rub off egg clusters, and pick off any caterpillars you find.

Sawflies

The caterpillar-like larvae devour the foliage on plants such as roses, gooseberries, and Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum). Look out for the first signs of attack, such as leaf rolling (rose leaf-rolling sawfly). Pick caterpillars off by hand or spray with bifenthrin or pyrethrum.

Leaf miners

The larvae of various flies, moths, sawflies, and beetles feed within the leaves, creating discolored blotches or linear mines. Most are relatively harmless and can be left untreated. However, if necessary, you can spray leaves with thiacloprid.

Red spider mites

The tiny mites live under leaves and suck sap, causing yellow mottling. Fine webs are sometimes visible. Raise humidity and use a biological control under glass. Otherwise try organic sprays or bifenthrin.

Woolly beech aphid

Seen in early summer, these white fluffy aphids coat shoots and the undersides of leaves. They suck sap, and excrete honeydew that supports black sooty mold. Spray severe infestations with thiacloprid.

Horse chestnut leaf miner

This new but widespread pest attacks mature trees where control is difficult. Leaves show brown marks between the veins, which result in slow growth and early leaf drop.

Earwig

Mostly beneficial, earwigs are nocturnal and feed on dahlia, chrysanthemum, and clematis flowers. Lure them into upturned flower pots filled with straw and set on stakes; release them elsewhere.


Man holding a leaf with a disease on it.

How to Keep Your Plants Safe from Diseases

The best way to keep plants free from disease is to grow them in the right conditions, so that they are strong enough to fight off any infections. Clean and sterilize tools and equipment, and prevent diseases from spreading by taking prompt action. Check symptoms carefully—they may just be signs of stress.

Preventing diseases

Before buying a plant, check that it is healthy, and where species are susceptible to certain problems, buy cultivars that are disease resistant, if available.

Try to plant in ideal conditions in well-nourished soil of the correct type, pH, and drainage for your chosen plants, and with sufficient sun or shade. Also keep them well-watered, especially after planting while they establish. At the first sign of trouble, cut off affected parts, and either burn them or take them to your local recycling center.

Regularly remove yellowing leaves and fading flowers, as well as diseased leaves that have fallen to the ground, which may cause reinfection if the spores blow onto healthy plants. If space allows, practice crop rotation in vegetable gardens to prevent disease from building up in localized areas.

Cleaning solutions

Clean cutting tools, including pruning saws, shears, and clippers, regularly with disinfectant to lessen the risk of disease spreading from one plant to another. Clean and sterilize pots, trays, and other equipment used for sowing to prevent damping-off disease, which causes seedlings to suddenly collapse and die. Use new soil and tap water when sowing seeds.

Stress and viruses

It can be difficult to work out what is wrong with a plant, but some worrying symptoms are a sign that the plant is stressed, perhaps due to a lack of nutrients, or because it has suffered physical or chemical damage.

Assess your plants

Some plants discolor if not properly hardened off or if grown at too cool or high a temperature. Leaves may turn white or develop red or purple tints. Starved plants also show leaf discoloration and stunted growth.

Viruses are commonly spread by sap-sucking insect pests, such as aphids. Typical symptoms are pale-streaked or mottled leaves, and leaf curling or distortion. Flower petals may also be streaked, and fruit and flower production reduced or growth stunted. Remove affected plants and throw in the trash or burn them.

Treating diseases

Taking the right care of your plant patient is an important step toward its recovery. Spraying or removing affected parts all play a part in the process, but ailing plants should also be fed and watered to help them regain their strength. Watch out for pests, which may attack your plant as it recovers, causing it to decline again.

Chemical control

Use fungicides sparingly, and follow the manufacturers’ instructions and recommendations for protective clothing. On small and wall-trained fruit trees, where practical to spray, a program of preventive treatment can be helpful to counter a range of diseases. Also, reduce the need for spraying by growing disease-resistant cultivars and providing good growing conditions. If early sowings suffer from damping off, consider drenching your soil with a preventive copper-based fungicide.

Removing the problem

Keep a look out for dead wood and torn branches and prune back to healthy tissue. Prune to a bud to reduce the risk of die back and infection. As well as sterilizing cutting equipment, wash your hands in soapy water after handling diseased material. Regularly check stored fruits, vegetables, and flower bulbs and tubers, and remove any that show signs of decay or damage.


Young plants receiving water.

How to Feed Your Garden Plants

No matter how good your soil, it will probably need extra nutrients to help plants with specific needs, or to boost them at key times, like flowering. Always follow the instructions on the label because too much, or the wrong type of fertilizer, can cause problems, such as plants with all leaves and no flowers.

Understanding nutrients

The three basic elements that plants require are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Nitrogen is needed for leaf and shoot growth, phosphorus for roots, and potassium helps flowers and fruits develop. Fertilizer manufacturers list the nutrient content as a ratio: a general purpose fertilizer has an N:P:K ratio of 7:7:7, while a tomato feed has a high concentration of potassium to boost fruit production, and a fertilizer for lawns or leafy crops contains mostly nitrogen.

Many fertilizers also include various trace elements or micronutrients. A plant’s nutrient requirements can depend on its growth phase, with most needing a general boost in the spring, and additional potassium as they fruit or flower.

Fertilizer choices

Your local garden center will offer both organic (derived from plants and animals) and inorganic (chemically manufactured) fertilizers. Most are concentrated for convenience and available as liquids, powders that you dilute in water, or granules. Typical examples of organic fertilizers are pelleted chicken manure; blood, fish, and bonemeal; liquid seaweed fertilizer; and homemade plant feeds, such as the diluted liquor from a wormery, or fertilizers made from soaking comfrey leaves. Inorganic feeds include sulfate of potash, Growmore, and granular rose feeds.

Mulching

Materials spread on top of the ground, usually around plants, are called mulches. They can be practical—feeding the soil, suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, or insulating roots in winter—or mainly decorative, applied for visual effect.

Applying organic mulches

Mulches are applied at different times depending on their purpose. For example, bark chips are spread over the soil after planting to suppress weeds. An organic mulch, such as manure, garden compost, chipped bark, or cocoa shells, must be laid over moist soil, whether in spring, after autumn and winter rains, or after watering.

Some mulches, especially bark, use up nutrients temporarily as they decompose, so before laying them, apply a nitrogenrich fertilizer, such as fish meal. Lay organic mulches in a layer 4in (10cm) deep so they continue to provide cover as they slowly decompose and feed the soil. Replenish these mulches every year.

Practical solutions

Man-made mulches offer many benefits. Weed membrane or landscape fabric is a semipermeable material that blocks out light but allows moisture through. Use it on low-maintenance beds, or on weed-ridden ground. Lay it before planting and cover with a natural bark or gravel, or a decorative mulch.

Black plastic does not allow moisture through, but it warms the soil and kills off weeds when laid over vegetable beds in spring. Straw insulates the soil, and protects tender plants in winter. It is also used to raise crops, such as strawberries and zucchinis, off the ground, reducing fungal and slug problems. A think layer of straw will protect the roots of vulnerable plants from frost.

Decorative options

Mulches that don’t decompose are useful as decorative garden surfaces. They are particularly effective when laid over landscape fabric or membrane, which reduces weed growth and helps prevent soil mixing in with the mulch and spoiling the effect. For a modern feel, try colored crushed glass or slate shards. Cover small areas, like the tops of pots and containers, with beads, crushed and whole shells, or polished pebbles. Natural pebbles blend well with gravel over larger areas, and can create a beach effect when laid in swathes.


Watering can spraying water over plants.

How to Water Your Plants

All plants need watering, but some need more than others. Concentrate on plants in containers, where the soil dries out relatively quickly; newly planted specimens that haven’t yet developed a strong enough root system to cope on their own; and fruits and vegetables at key stages in their growth cycle.

Preserve water supplies

Water is a precious commodity, but if you irrigate only those plants that need it, and water in the cool of the morning or in the evening, you can greatly reduce your impact on supplies. Other ways to minimize water usage are to add moisture retentive gel crystals to containers, and mulch borders every year after it has rained. Trees, shrubs, and perennials will also need watering less frequently during the first few months if you plant them when the soil is naturally moist in autumn, winter, and early spring. Lay turf in late winter and early spring, too, and it will usually establish well without the need for extra irrigation.

After planting, encourage deep rooting by watering thoroughly and then leaving for 7–14 days before watering again, rather than giving frequent small doses. The water will then sink deep into the soil and encourage roots to follow. Also, if planting in the rain shadow of walls and hedges use drought-tolerant species.

Watering methods

Make the most of your water supplies and save yourself time and energy by using a watering method that suits the job at hand. A watering can is ideal for small areas where you want to target water accurately; hoses are best for large beds, but use them with care to avoid waste.

Watering by hand

If you only have a few plants or pots to water, use a watering can, and pour slowly so it has a chance to soak into the roots; remove fine roses from cans unless watering new plantings. Direct water to the roots of your plants—they do not absorb water through their leaves so spraying overhead is not only wasteful but means that less moisture reaches the soil. Also avoid flowers and fruits, which may rot if too wet. Mound up the soil around the base of large plants to create a reservoir in which water will collect and sink down to the root area.

When hosing beds and borders, focus the spray on the soil, and turn it off as you move between planted areas. Longhandled hoses are useful if you have lots of pots and baskets to reach—again, turn the flow off between each container.

Automatic systems

Relatively easy to install, automatic watering systems can save hours of work in the garden; attach a timer, and they will water your plot in your absence. Most come in kit form and allow you to design a system that suits your garden. Kits typically include a network of main pipes into which you insert fine feeder pipes that take water directly to individual plants or pots.

These terminate in small drip nozzles, held just above soil level, that gradually release water, which drains down around the roots. Check your watering system every few weeks to ensure plants aren’t being under- or over-watered, and adjust individual flow regulators as necessary. Turn off nozzles when no longer required.

Leaky and seep hoses

Less sophisticated than automatic irrigation systems, these perforated hosepipes are perfect for watering lots of plants at the same time. Unlike a regular hose, water gradually seeps out at soil level and penetrates deeply. Lay one along a row of thirsty vegetables, or weave it between newly planted shrubs and perennials. Attach the hose to a water butt, which may need to be raised up to provide a gravitational flow of water, or fit on to an outdoor tap. Lift your hose and reposition it as needed.

Watering containers

Although large containers need watering less frequently than small ones, they may still require water every day in summer. Porous terracotta pots dry out quickly, so consider lining them with plastic before planting. Don’t rely on rain to water your pots because the soil often remains dry after a shower. When planting, leave a gap of at least 1 in (2 cm) between the soil and the pot’s rim to allow water to collect there. A bark or gravel mulch helps retain moisture.

Tips: Watering trees

Help trees establish by inserting perforated drainage tubing into the hole, close to the roots, at planting time. Water poured into the exposed end is directed to the root area with no wastage. Mulch, or use a tree mat, to deter weeds and to seal in moisture.


Freezing protection for plants for winter period.

How to Protect Your Garden from Frost

Some plants and containers need a little help to get them through cold winters but they can be left outside if you provide some protection when temperatures dip below freezing.

The big cover-up

Tender plants must be brought inside in winter because they die when exposed to freezing temperatures, but those that can survive a few degrees of frost should survive outside in all but the coldest regions.

Plants to protect

Many slightly tender plants survive low temperatures but not cold, wet soils, so ensure yours drains freely before planting. Other plants are not killed by frost, but their flowers may be damaged. Examples include peach trees, magnolias, and camellias, which suffer when frosted blooms thaw too quickly in warm morning sun. Young leaves and buds of hardy plants can also be sensitive to frost, so don’t feed in late summer because it promotes vulnerable new growth.

Also, allow herbaceous plants to die down naturally so that the leaves fall over the plant, forming a protective blanket, and apply a thick mulch over those that may suffer in low temperatures, like Alstroemeria or diascias.

Tips: Overwinter bananas and tree ferns

Popular for tropical gardens, Musa basjoo is one of the hardiest bananas and tolerates winters outside if protected from cold, wet conditions. First, cut down the stems and remove the leaves. Attach chicken wire to bamboo canes set around the plant to form a cage, and pack it with straw. Treat tree ferns in the same way: make a cage around the plant, fold the fronds over the top of the stem, and pack straw around it.

Cloches for crops

Some vegetables that overwinter in the soil benefit from a protective cloche or a layer of straw. Likewise, crops that are sown early in spring may grow more quickly if kept snug when frosts strike. A wide variety of cloches is available to buy, or make one yourself from recycled materials.

Choosing a cover

Winter root crops, such as parsnips, carrots, and leeks, are difficult to lift when the soil is frozen, so cover them with a layer of insulating straw in autumn. Cold frames are ideal for spring-sown frost-hardy seedlings in trays or pots, which will be transplanted outside later in the year, while a cloche is best for crops that are sown in situ in early spring, such as lettuce, arugula, and Oriental greens, or for overwintered vegetables like broad beans.

Cloches can be bought already constructed or as kits, or if you want frost protection for just a few weeks each year, a homemade type made from a few sheets of clear plastic may suffice. Alternatively, make a more permanent tunnel from wire hoops covered with clear plastic; leave one end open for ventilation.

Wrap up your pots

Container plants can suffer in winter on two fronts: roots are more vulnerable in pots because they afford less insulation than the soil in the ground, and the pots themselves may crack or break during icy periods.

Container care

Some containers are more vulnerable to frost damage than others. Stone, metal, and plastic pots will sail through winters unscathed, while terracotta often cracks in frosty conditions. Terracotta suffers because it is porous and when moisture from the soil and rain leaches into it and then expands as it turns to ice, the pot cracks.

So, unless you pay a premium for containers that have been fired to high temperatures to reduce their porosity, you will need to take steps to make sure yours stay intact. Either remove plants and soil and store pots inside, or, if they are housing a prized plant, wrap them up with hessian or bubble wrap. Cover the soil, too, so that it does not become saturated. Another tip is to line the pot with bubble wrap before you plant it up, thereby forming a barrier between the soil and the terracotta.

Slightly tender potted plants are best wrapped in horticultural fleece in the winter. Also tie together the leaves of strappy plants, such as cordylines, to protect their crowns from snow and ice.


Man pruning a tree with garden pruning shears..

What You Need to Know About Pruning

Some shrubs and trees require little pruning apart from removing dead or damaged stems, but for many others an annual trim is essential. Regular pruning can improve a plant’s appearance, stimulate the production of fruit and flowers, keep specimens youthful and vigorous, and encourage bolder foliage.

What to prune

Routine pruning maintains the health and appearance of woody plants. In late winter or early spring, before the leaves of deciduous shrubs and trees appear, look at their overall shape in detail and identify branches that need removing or shortening. Also note any congested growth in the center, which can encourage disease. Then, cut away dead or damaged stems to healthy tissue; crossing branches that are rubbing and liable to create a wound; and stems that are no longer producing fruit or flowers.

How to prune

When pruning, use sharp clippers for thin stems, or a pruning saw for wood that is thicker than a pencil. Loppers are useful for chopping up prunings into more manageable pieces. Always make your cut just above a bud to avoid the stump dying back into healthy wood, and make clean cuts that will heal more quickly and are less prone to infection. To avoid wood ripping or splitting when cut, take the weight off long branches in stages.

Cutting branches

When possible, remove tree branches when young, because the cuts heal more quickly. Most should be pruned in late winter, but wait until mid- to late summer for hornbeam (Carpinus), pears (Pyrus), plums and cherries (Prunus species).

Make an undercut first

Take some weight off the branch first to prevent it tearing close to the trunk. Cut partly through the underside of the branch; then saw from the top a little further up. Allow the branch to snap off.

Cut close to trunk

Remove the final stump by cutting close to the trunk, but not flush with it. Make an angled cut away from the tree, just beyond the crease in the bark where the branch meets the trunk.

Allow the wound to heal

The result is a clean cut that leaves the tree’s healing tissue intact, speeding up its recovery. The wound may bleed after pruning, but will soon form a layer of protective bark.

Spur pruning

This technique encourages climbers, wall shrubs, and trained fruit trees to flower and fruit more freely. Shortening the shoots that grow from the main stems promotes the remaining buds to produce far more productive stems than would normally appear.

Find a healthy shoot

Identify strong growing shoots and trim back to two or three buds from the main stems to form short branches or “spurs.” Make a slanting cut to channel rainwater away from the chosen bud. This helps prevent disease and die back.

Create short spurs

The “spurs” of this climbing rose will each produce two or three flowering stems in the forthcoming season. You can also spur prune wall-trained Chaenomeles, Pyracantha, and Ceanothus to keep plants neat and blooming well.

Tips: Keep safe

Wear thick gardening gloves when pruning or trimming, and use well-maintained tools appropriate to the task. Wear goggles and ear protectors when using a hedge trimmer. Don’t cut above head height; use ladders or platforms and make sure that they are stable and secure. Undergo approved safety training and wear specialist clothing before using a chainsaw.


Man with gardening gloves pruning a shrub.

How to Prune Shrubs

The best time to prune deciduous climbers and shrubs depends on whether they bloom on growth produced in the same or previous years. Generally, those that flower after midsummer are pruned hard in spring. Those that bloom in winter, spring, and early summer are pruned soon after flowering.

Early-flowering shrubs

This group contains spring show-stoppers, such as forsythia and flowering currants (Ribes), as well as early-summer bloomers, including Philadelphus, Weigela, Deutzia, and Spiraea ‘Arguta’. These all flower on stems that were produced the previous year; prune them just after flowering so that new growth can ripen throughout the summer.

Remove dead and diseased growth, and cut back old flowering stems, leaving new shoots to take over. Thin overcrowded growth, cutting a third to a fifth of the oldest stems to ground level. Apply an all-purpose granular fertilizer, water well, and lay a deep organic mulch.

Encourage flowering

Prune early-flowering shrubs, such as honeysuckle, Lonicera x purpusii, in early summer after flowering. Cut a third of the oldest stems to 12 in (30 cm) from the ground with a pruning saw, reducing the length gradually to prevent tearing.

Maintain vigor

Trim back tall stems to stimulate new buds to shoot lower down the stems and make a bushier plant. This also gives new growth room to develop and mature, and still leaves sufficient old wood to bloom the following year.

Late-flowering shrubs

This group contains shrubs and climbers that flower in late summer and autumn, such as butterfly bush (Buddleja), shrubby mallow (Lavatera), Hydrangea paniculata, Perovskia, and hardy fuchsia, as well as late-flowering clematis, like C. viticella. Prune all the stems back hard in late winter or early spring to promote lots of new flowering shoots.

Shorten stems

To prevent tall, fast-growing shrubs, such as butterfly bush, Buddleja, from being damaged by autumn storms, prune the tallest stems after flowering. Then carry out the main pruning in spring.

Cut back hard

In spring, remove long whippy stems and thin twiggy growth with clippers to reveal the main framework of branches. Using a pruning saw, cut back to create a low structure of healthy stems.

Encourage larger blooms

Pruning encourages more flowers and healthier growth. It breathes new life into old shrubs, and can even increase the longevity of short-lived plants, such as shrubby mallow, Lavatera.

Pruning evergreens

Many evergreens are not as hardy as deciduous shrubs and grow more slowly. They are best pruned sparingly to reduce their size and keep them tidy after the frosts, between late spring and late summer. To avoid removing any blooms, prune summer-flowering evergreens, such as Escallonia, when the flowers have finished.

Never prune evergreens in autumn because any new growth will not have enough time to harden off before the frosts return, and could be damaged. If any stems are harmed by frost, leave them until the following spring before removing them.

Trim plants lightly

Shrubs, such as Ceanothus, should be pruned lightly after flowering since they may not make new wood if cut back too hard. Maintain a compact, flower-filled shrub by pruning long, straggly branches by 10–12 in (25–30 cm), but leave some of the shorter stems unpruned to help the plant maintain its strength. Cut above a leaf bud to prevent die-back and stimulate new growth below the cut.

Renovating shrubs

Old and overgrown deciduous or evergreen shrubs can be cut back quite severely to rejuvenate them and help them become productive once more. Those flowering on wood made the previous year may take a couple of years to bloom again.

Trim plants lightly

Shrubs, such as Ceanothus, should be pruned lightly after flowering since they may not make new wood if cut back too hard. Maintain a compact, flower-filled shrub by pruning long, straggly branches by 10–12 in (25–30 cm), but leave some of the shorter stems unpruned to help the plant maintain its strength. Cut above a leaf bud to prevent die-back and stimulate new growth below the cut.

Cutting back an overgrown mahonia

Shorten the main stems to 2 ft (60 cm) above ground level. First, remove dead, damaged, and diseased stems. Then, imagine the regrown plant and maintain a balanced shape while you cut out the oldest growth, to leave around 5 or 6 strong young stems. Prune these to 12–16 in (30–40 cm) from the ground, making sloping cuts to deflect the rain.

Prune for foliage displays

Many deciduous shrubs are valued for their brightly colored foliage, which grows on young stems and can be encouraged by hard pruning. Some shrubs should be cut back severely every year, such as the colored-leaved forms of elder (Sambucus), spiraea, Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides), and smoke bush (Cotinus). Others, like the purple filbert (Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’), should be pruned every two years. To aid their recovery after pruning, water them well and apply an all-purpose fertilizer. Then add a thick mulch.

Cut back a smoke bush

Prune the shrub down to a stout framework of branches in spring, before the leaf buds burst. Use a pruning saw to reduce the height initially, then cut all the healthy stems to 2 ft (60 cm) from the ground. Pruning also keeps the shrub more compact.