Wakey wakey!

PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 April 2014

Hortensia (Hydrangea) in garden, close-up

Hortensia (Hydrangea) in garden, close-up

(c) Michael Turek

Garden expert Paul Prove takes a tour of the grounds to see plants raise their sleepy heads after the horrors of winter

Paul Prové is a horticultural specialist primarily involved with maintaining clients gardens. He has experience in many 
areas of horticulture (including retail, commercial and amenity) and specialises in garden design and landscaping projects. Oak Gardening Services
01726 252153 / 07789 007979 paulprove@sky.com

At this time of the year, the garden is full of expectation and promise for the season ahead. As you do a ‘tour of the grounds’ to see how your plants are coming along, remember not all of them will have woken up yet. Some plants are particularly late to leaf up, like hibiscus and perovskia (Russian sage). In some years lavatera can show little life until early summer. So although they may appear dead, take comfort from this and be patient. My comparison is those who stay up late are rarely the first out of bed in the morning!

As winter begins to lose its bite, many evergreens and less hardy plants can be pruned, eg fuchsias and penstemons. There are a few points to consider: some do not respond well to cutting back too far into very old growth. In some cases this can even kill the plant. Ceanothus and lavender are common examples. It is important to be consistent and prune a little each year rather than launch a sudden attack on a mature plant. Of course there are always exceptions to any rule, buddleias benefit from hard pruning in spring. Generally the safest time to prune is after flowering. Another point to keep in mind is that many plants only produce flowers or fruit from growth made in the previous year. This explains why there is an absence of flower on many plants which, in all other respects are performing well. Common examples are hydrangea, pyracantha, lilac, garrya (tassel bush) and many early clematis including the montanas.

With all these considerations you may ask why prune at all? Correct pruning of a plant can improve and increase its flowering and fruiting capabilities, the size and colour of foliage and the appearance of attractive stems and bark. Most importantly for the gardener, pruning controls and shapes growth so that the plant remains a beautiful garden feature suited to the location in which it is growing. Certainly with hedges they are much easier to manage if prevented from running away with themselves. In some cases pruning is not necessary, but I would inspect all woody growth for broken or damaged stems as these not only clutter a healthy plant but also make it vulnerable to disease. Branches that rub together can cause lesions in trees and shrubs, so remove the weaker ones.

There are several methods of pruning and there are many opinions on how suitable each is for any individual. I try to work with the form of each plant. For example, a plant with a naturally weeping habit does not show you its best if an attempt has been made to clip it into a formal shape alien to its nature. It is important to choose a plant carefully so that you avoid a battle of wills. Enjoy your garden, be cautious, but not afraid to prune. If you feel uncertain there are plenty of good books on the subject.

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