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When and why to prune

 When and why to prune

Seasonal pruning, maintenance pruning,  hedge trimming, fruit tree pruning, rose pruning, why to prune, when to prune, right time to prune, pruning and climate change,  confused seasons pruning, gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener

When and why to prune is a vast subject, and so this article aims to describe the basic principles. There are several reasons to prune, which have differing degrees of importance to the homeowner and gardener alike.

The main reasons for pruning

Pruning is carried out for these reasons.

  • Maintaining the health of the plant
  • Manage the size of the plant
  • To get the best from a plant, for its beauty, or for its yield
  • Necessary horticultural pruning, or aesthetic pruning
  • Safety pruning, removing material that can endanger people

The very worst thing that can be done is not to prune. Many clients refer to letting the plant grow bigger for privacy, but that often produces unruly open plants that offer very little privacy.

Regular management removes dead, damaged and diseased wood, maintains shape and character, airflow and overall size. And if your plant exists primarily to provide something to your garden, i.e., scent, colour or crop, those values can be enhanced.

Sometimes the horticultural requirement is more important, and sometimes the aesthetics and practicality control what needs to be done. Ultimately, the homeowner – and bill payer – decides whether the size and shape is more important than the health of a plant.

When is the right time to prune

Late winter and early spring are often the best times to prune. There are obviously some exceptions, including plants that can be damaged by cold weather, or that flower early in the year.  Winter is the best option as many plants are dormant. The sap is not rising, and plants will not bleed from the wounds. This allows time for wounds to heal before sap starts rising again as plants come into bud.

Winter pruning without leaves makes structural pruning much easier, leaving maintenance pruning as a lighter task when plants are in full leaf.

Climate change has caused some confusion in the seasons, in that what used to be a fairly know timeframe could now have a much larger – or narrower – window. So “late winter” and “early spring” may not be the same from one year to the next. According to the Met Office,  winter doesn’t start until December 21st, making late winter February 21st through March 21st. Casting our minds back over the last few years, other than late frosts, March has been warm. This uncertainty, or vagueness leads us to conclude that it may be better to prune when we know it is coldest, and plants are most dormant, into January and before the end of February – a much shorter window.

Some plants, such as grape and walnut, are particularly vulnerable to bleeding if pruned in mid- to late winter or early spring, as the rising sap spills out from the pruning cut.

Pruning exceptions

Being aware of these subtleties is what makes a gardener. Knowing to prune before the buds start swelling, but not so early in winter that the plant could suffer winter injury.

There are a large number of plants that flower early in the year, which if pruned early would deprive them of their primary purpose. But that may be a worthwhile sacrifice for a year if the the plant needs urgent or radical attention.

A couple of rules of thumb for pruning. If the plant flowers after midsummer, prune in winter. If it flowers before midsummer, prune after flowering. And as Christopher Lloyd said, it’s OK to do it when you think of it, have time to do it and have the tools to hand, than not do it at all.

Pruning is an art form
The results of not pruning or over-pruning

Objectives of pruning?

  • Cut out all dead, damaged and diseased wood.
  • Thin out crowded and dense limbs.
  • Trim watersprouts from limbs on trees.
  • Cut out all crossing or rubbing branches.
  • Remove weak wood and thin growth.
  • Cut back at least 6″ to healthy wood on any dead wood.
  • Remove suckers.

The plant and its condition dictates the pruning requirements. Most deciduous shrubs will benefit from thinning or heading, or both. Removing old growth at the base of the shrub, and new weak or thin stems will give room for air circulation and light. If a plant requires significant reduction, do it in phases allowing growth to resume between. That way we don’t shock a plant, or reduced it to a pile of sticks. It then has chance to recover and regrow from low down. This is  way a plant to scale back safely over a period of one to three years.

Leaving Pruning Altogether

Not pruning is probably the most common pruning mistake. It is not intuitive to cut something that you want to become bigger.

Thinning shrubs allows light and air to better penetrate the shrub. Removing old wood helps keep a shrub young and vibrant. Pruning can improve the health, vigour, and lifespan of your plants.

Putting the garden to bed-or not

Putting the garden to bed – or not   Winter garden, preparation for winter, garden ready for winter, put garden to bed,  gardener Bourne End, Marlow, Taplow, Wooburn Green gardener

Most garden owners are fairly individual about what they want and expect from their gardens. But the one things they seem to come together about is the tradition of “putting the garden to bed”. It’s a tradition that harks back to the days when winters were actually cold. And they may still be in some parts of the country, but where we garden in South Buckinghamshire a proper frost is now a rare thing.

All gardens are not the same

There are pros and cons to the idea. Certainly there are some plants that are a mess and offer little winter structure. There are others that do maintain some order and structure; we used to leave them so they’d look nice when frosted – see earlier point. And there are those that do offer some benefit to wildlife, seed heads or berries for food, or collapsed cover that provides shelter. So the argument for putting the garden to bed is not straightforward.

So while I don’t think that the herbaceous border should be left in its entirety, more can be left than tradition dictates. What this does in effect is spread the task of preparing beds for the spring flush of growth over a longer period.  It also enables better and easier identification when they start growing again.

Vulnerable plants

Those plants most likely to be affected are the annuals, and tender perennials. When it does get cold – last year it was into December – they turn black and a frost of any depth will turn them to mush. Also included should be Cannas, Callas, Dahlias  and Tithonia. But I no linger worry about lifting and storing these away in the shed or garage. Five years ago I was still lifting, but now the tubers thrive in the developed ground, and get a later but stronger start when the ground warms.  Other potential contenders are gladiolus. But where they are left in situ it is worth adding a mulch layer to protect and nutrify.

Putting the garden to bed
Dahlias should be cut back when blackened by frost, and either lifted or left depending on where you are in the UK

Perennials that can be cut back include hemerocallis, crocosmia,, phlox, lysimachia. Amongst those I tend to leave are helianthus, rudbeckia and echinacea.

Points to keep in mind in putting the garden to bed

There is no hard and fast rule I apply in partially putting the garden to bed. I just remove what is contributing little, keep what can make a difference to wildlife, and any relatively strong structure. Mulch where protection is required, but eave the majority of the mulching for when the final clear down is done in January or February, depending on how hard the winter actually was.

Knowing roughly when the last frost is going to be would be useful, but some clever persons has though t of it. You can use this tool to find your location and discover the average date of a last frost. Fantastic!

More important but not on most gardeners list is to add mulch to the borders.  This is more easily done into the late winter or early spring, when you can see where returning perennials are.  And you’ll also any seedlings from last year annuals that can be relocated, or just left to be natural.

  • Clear blackened tender plants, mark location and mulch
  • Cut back anything untidy that does not offer shelter or food
  • Leave plants with seeds or berries that contribute to wildlife
  • Leave anything that maintains structure
  • When it is finally cleared, mulching  the borders will provide a protecting nutrient layer. This will be worked into the soil to improve it throughout the year.

Must-have plants for any garden

My must-have plants for any garden
Gardener Bourne End, garden care Taplow, lawn care Wooburn Green, Hedge triming Cookham, Bourne End Gardener.

I’m often asked about favourite or a must-have plant, but I don’t think there is a singular answer. Many merge together creating the effects I like, and succeed each other in an orchestral fanfare lasting months on end.

But these listed below can form a core that would enable a long featured display from February to December.

Specific varieties are mostly not detailed, that would be part of the colour scheme or them of an individual garden. They could all be a must-have plant.

There are some shrubs for structure, grasses and perennials that will start early in the year, others that will last until Christmas.

And now is the time to consider any new plants for your borders. March and April are best months for planting, and if it gets as hot as last year, May will be too late. Unless you have irrigation installed or area slave to the hosepipe.

My Must-have plants – grasses and shrubs

Cornus, coloured stem dogwoods. Or coloured Willows. These provide basic flowers on fresh leaves, but of managed well offer coloured stems from December to March. They must be maintained annually, else they can grow beyond reach and the task becomes a chore. These are absolute must-have plants.

Phalaris. A vigorous variegated grass that can be divided annually to fill spaces.

Calamagrostis. Super tall grass that forms large clumps, lasts through winter as a frosted statue.

must-have plants
Two striking grass forms together

Miscanthus. Generally softer than above.

Stipa Gigantea. A most imposing grass with open oat flowers.

Black currant. Minimal fuss plant with great rewards. Grows in shade, but better, sweeter fruit is produced in a little more sun.

Essential perennials

Rudbeckia / Echinacea. The basic yellow or purple flowers are tough and will self-seed. They can be temperamental in wet ground. The newer alternative colours are more tender.

must-have plants
Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

Lupin. A packet of Russel hybrid seeds will see your garden full of flowers for years.

Crocosmia. The fresh dense growth provides a great contrast to most other forms. A few nice flower colours too.

Iris Germanica. Buy from a specialist as bare roots, all the colours you could imagine, various sizes and variegated forms too. The flowers can be shirt lived, but are still must-have plants.

Must-have plants
Bearded Iris provide some of the most intricate flowers in the garden. Short lived in warm periods, but so worthwhile.

Echinops. Spikey blue/purple globes on serrated leaves, can be vigorous.

must-have plants
The spiky foliage and flowers contrast with soft foliage and rounded Achillea

Eryngium. Sea holly, spiky leaves and flowers, great contrast.

Achillea. I love the tall yellow flowered version that look like cauliflower. Other colours are available, but can be more tender.

Must-have plants
Achillea cloth of gold.Tall, log-lasting, contrasting flower and foliage form. A simple must-have plant.

Hemerocallis. Day lillies, a mainstay for any garden. The flowers offer morning and evening therapy, deadheading while checking the rest of the beds. The more you deadhead, the more flowers are produced. So many colours, spreads easily, grows in ditches on freeways in California so is very tough.

must-have plants
An example of some day lily colours.

Verbena Bonariensis. Never be without this plant. I use it with Stipa to form screens through which the garden can be viewed.

Must-have plants
Stipa gigantea and Verbena bonariensis combine beaufifully.

Penstemon. Or this one. It is generally tough when established, many colours that can flower into December. Can be susceptible to drought or waterlogging.

Ground cover must-haves

Ajuga. This is wonderful, all but indestructible ground cover, bronze leaf with blue flowers. Leaf shades, size and flower colour vary slightly.

Heuchera. A wonderful variety of leaf/flower colour combinations mostly for shade or partial sun.

Geranium. The hardy ground cover plant, not tender pelargoniums. They vary by leaf shape and size, and colour, and by flower colour.

Bergenia. A very useful tough ground cover that tolerates shade well. Varying leaf sizes and flower colours.

How to stop box tree moth caterpillar

Stop Box tree moth caterpillar
and other pests in 2020. How to treat box tree moth, stop box moth caterpillar, stop lilly beetle. treatment for box tree moth. 

In 2018 much of the UK had its first experience of Box Tree Moth Caterpillar. Though it has been around since 2011 or so, this pest has increasing  made its presence felt recently. Many have seen it after the horse had bolted. With their – in some cases very expensive – box installations reduced to just a bunch of sticks. In addition, the recent summer heat and lack of moisture contributes to slow recovery, with many plants overwintering without foliage. But you can stop box tree moth.

Effective solutions

From the ground up has tried various solutions over the last two years. Consequently we have tried and trusted plans to address this invasion for our clients, and stop box tree moth caterpillar.  Depending on the volume of buxus present  we have  effective methods to try to prevent infestation.  A combination of pheromone traps and direct spraying prevents and cures. Because the traps contain a lure that attracts the male, they are caught preventing any eggs laid by the female being fertilised. However, in 2020 the trap makers suggest that the trap is used purely as an indicator of moth presence. As if half your buxus missing were not clue enough.

Box tree moth caterpillars can defoliate your plants in a matter of days
Box tree moth caterpillar can defoliate your plants in a matter of days. 

Chemical spray or more expensive nematode or biological insecticide solutions are available to treat caterpillars directly.  Spray treatment needs to be thorough and get right inside the plant, past the protective web left by the caterpillars. Using a pump spray with a lance gets it right into the plant, ensuring that all the foliage is covered.  That’s why using a hand spray is not effective. To kill off any infestation first, repeated treatment every 7-10 days to start,  and then approximately every 4-6 weeks between March and October. The spray is absorbed into the plant, and kills the caterpillars as they eat the leaves.

Box tree moth – practicalities

Furthermore, timing of spray application is important. We spray early in the morning, helping to minimise any other insects being affected.

Bacillus thuringiensis var Kurstak is a product that controls box moth. This is a natural bacterium (not a chemical insecticide) that organic farmers use to stop crop destruction by butterflies.

I personally use Provanto, which you can get from Amazon. 

To stop box tree moth caterpillar use these watchwords. Awareness. Vigilance. Prevention. Treatment. Perseverance.

The final consideration is recovery. Box plants can recover from defoliation through infestation or drought. Many box plants bear the scars of the moth onslaught after the growing season, filling out in the spring.

I am a gardener working in SL8,, and have recorded my experience so that it may help others. I am not available to answer calls.

Stopping Lily Beetle

Stopping Lily Beetle

How to stop lily beetle, red lily beetle, what’s eating my lillies, kill lily beetle, eradicate lily beetle, stopping lily beetle, red lily beetle,lily beetle garlic spray, lily beetle UK.

At this time of the season, whenever that is in the year, two particular subjects dominate my garden. One is day lillies and the need for constant dead heading. The other is lily beetle. The two jobs can be connected, but don’t offer the same enjoyment.

Dead heading the Hemerocallis rewards  you with more flowers. It’s also a chance to be in the border again. In the morning this is with a good cup of tea in hand, but in the evening it may well be a crisp white or rose.

Whilst surveying the decaying day lily blooms I keep an eye out for the little red monsters that can shred your lillies in a moment. Red lily beetle don’t touch day lillies, just the true lily family,  LiliumCardiocrinum and Fritillaria.

Stopping lily beetle
Red lily beetle are black underneath, so when they fall to the ground are very hard to see.

Since discovering that these apparently delicate plants were quite hardy I’ve planted many more, and with  them comes the invading red bugs. the result is worth the effort though.

What happens if you don’t stop red lily beetle?

These pests are attracted to the smell of the lillies. When they find them they quickly reproduce and leave hundreds of offspring that will eat the leaves and stem.  This may actually stop the plant flowing. So keeping them off is justified.

Stopping lily beetle
They have to be worth protecting from red lily beetle!

I employ two strategies in stopping lily beetle. One is to stop them finding the plant to start with, and second to kill them if they do find it. To mask the scent of the plant I use blended garlic filtered into a spray bottle. I mix in some washing up liquid to make it foam and stick to the leaves for longer. You must continue  to apply it fairly regularly though.

To make it use a couple of cloves crushed or finely chopped, leave to diffuse in boiling water for five minutes, then filter ( the pulp will block the sprayer) into a spray bottle. Add washing up liquid, then top up with water. Keep te pulp in a sealed jar to use next time, you’ll get four or five uses from one pulp.

And when I spot the red devils I use two hands to pick them off. One hand is beneath them, as they have a habit of just letting go of the leaf and falling to the ground where they’re hard to spot. The other can pick them off. Dispose of them with a foot on a hard surface.

The garlic spray needs to get to as much of the leaf surface as possible, including underneath. Here you may see the nasty clutches of eggs laid in excrement.  Remove these as well to prevent rapid re-infection.

I am always looking for other ways to enhance my protection of the lily plants with something sprayable and sticky, and equally pungent so the bugs can’t find the host.

How to stop lily beetle, red lily beetle, what’s eating my lillies, kill lily beetle, eradicate lily beetle, stopping lily beetle, red lily beetle,lily beetle garlic spray, lily beetle UK. Local gardener in Bourne End, Flackwell Heath gardener, Taplow gardener.

 

Simple rose pruning rules

Simple rose pruning rules

When to prune roses, simple rose pruning rules. how to prune roses, what type of rose to prune when, Garden jobs for winter, jobs in the garden for winter, preparing the garden for spring,

There are seemingly many rules to consider when pruning roses, so daunting that most people choose not to bother for fear of causing more harm than good.

But some simple rose pruning rules applied at the right time will easily enhance your roses regardless of what they are.

Simple rose pruning rules

Consider first, does the rose flower just once? If so prune in late summer after flowering is completed.

The objective is – as with all pruning – to keep the plants free of dead, diseased and damaged wood (the three D’s). Crossing or rubbing branches and spindly growth should also be removed.

Avoid any excessive build-up of the older, less productive wood that can crowd out the centre of the plant. Opening up the plant to form a goblet shape is the plan.

Simple rose pruning rules

Remove older branches from the centre if necessary. If they become leggy and bare at the base, remove one or two stems back near the ground to encourage new growth from the base.

If on the other hand, you don’t know if the plant flowers just once,  prune your roses in February to March. Use the simple rose pruning rules below, as described by the RHS.

Prune in late winter before dormancy breaks

The idea here is to make the cuts before the plant breaks dormancy in the spring.

  • Cuts should be no more than 5mm (¼ in) above a bud and should slope away from it, so that water does not collect on the bud. This applies to all cuts, whether removing dead wood, deadheading or annual pruning.
  • Cut to an outward-facing bud to encourage an open-centred shape. With roses of spreading habit, prune some stems to inward-facing buds to encourage more upright growth.
  • If a dormant bud is not visible, just cut to an appropriate height
    Make your cuts clean and neat using clean and sharp secateurs. For thicker stems use loppers or a pruning saw.
  • Prune and dieback to healthy wood. Cut out dead and diseased stems and spindly and crossing stems. Aim for well-spaced stems that allow free air flow.
  • On established roses, cut out poorly flowering old wood. Saw away old stubs that have failed to produce new shoots
  • With the exception of climbing roses and shrub roses, prune all newly planted roses hard to encourage vigorous shoots.
  • Trace suckers back to the roots from which they grow and pull them, rather than cut them, away.

So there it is, simple rose pruning rules that we can all follow to keep your roses easily maintained, and enhanced.

From the ground up can show you how to prune your roses and other shrubs.

And if you need any extra guidance, search the RHS website for rose pruning, where everything is explained very clearly.

Garden care Marlow, gardener Marlow, Garden service Marlow, Gardener Bourne End. Pruning rose, simple rose pruning rules

The weed suppressing membrane myth

The weed suppressing membrane myth

Using fabric to suppress weeds, low maintenance gardening weed fabric, weed membrane, weed suppressing membrane myth
Clients often ask me to lay a fabric membrane to “suppress weeds”. This is usually as part of a plan to minimise maintenance, or specifically weed growth.

But what the client expects, and what they get, may be very different, even though I might provide exactly what they request.

The concept that a membrane can be used to suppress weeds for long is not real. It’s the weed suppressing membrane myth. Let me qualify that further. If you want to be able to plant in or around it, and have your plants survive or thrive, it does not work.

In fact a fabric or membrane  can often makes things worse.

If you want to lay a path or hard standing of aggregate that will not contain plants then it may work for a while.

Here’s why I don’t believe the weed suppressing membrane myth

If fabric is laid to cover the area between plants, be it mulched or not, the area will eventually become fertile above the membrane. As material decomposes and provides a base for seeds to germinate, the ground below deteriorates as it becomes starved of nutrients.

The weed suppressing membrane myth
Weed control fabric is not suitable for permanent planting

And as a layer of compost like material forms on top of the fabric, the first things to germinate will be those with tough roots – like ash and dandelion – that penetrate and anchor it. Now try digging them out.

And those covered with aggregate that looked so smart for a while. Now there is detritus gathering between the stones, enough for seeds to germinate. And once they penetrate the fabric… it’s a familiar tale.

Meanwhile the soil below is unable to benefit from the nutrients laying above. Worms working the soil cannot reach the materials to drag it into the soil. It will gradually become lifeless.

Weed suppression is for me in the same category as the no or low maintenance garden. It is feasible,  but subject to many caveats and just as much work to make it effective.

Low maintenance is possible, in particular growing conditions or by compromising on the plants you might want, choosing instead from a more limited palette.

So what does work to suppress weeds then?

Several things are better than the weed suppressing membrane myth.

Less stress about weeds helps, just accept that they will grow. Even if you eliminate every one in your garden, the seed will blow in from next door. Or a therapeutic hoeing regime, leaving the cut weeds to cook in the sun.

Mulch works– plenty of it will suppress weeds. Until it starts to break down, at which point it nourishes the soil. So renew it at least twice a year.

Best of all is a  dense planting plan that prevents weed seeds getting to the soil to grow. Include plants who’s presence will kill off the seedlings of anything else around it. This is called allelopathy, and is a fascinating subject for those with time to consider the potential.

Weed fabric, weed control, weed barrier, weed suppressing membrane