The British winter of 2021-22 started with a bang, as Storm Arwen and then Storm Barra swept through the UK, stripping the trees of any remaining autumn leaves.
Since then, conditions have improved, and we’re yet to meet Corrie, Dudley or Eunice – the next three names on the Met Office’s ‘Name our Storms’ list for this season.
There’s plenty to do in the garden over winter while the fine weather holds. In particular, now is the perfect time to take care of any pruning in your garden, as the winter months are the best season to trim most trees, shrubs and large plants.
As temperatures drop, many plants enter a dormant phase. During this time, it’s safer to prune them back without causing unnecessary damage.
Pruning has the obvious effect of cutting back on the amount of growth by removing dead and unwanted branches, but it can actually boost growth over the long term.
That’s because once the springtime arrives and the tree or shrub exits its dormant phase, it’s able to put more energy into growing green shoots, rather than sustaining old, unhealthy branches that should have been removed.
Although the process of pruning a tree or shrub is very similar to that of trimming it back, there are some differences in the way the two terms are used, especially by professionals.
Pruning typically focuses on the health and vitality of the plant. It may involve removing dead branches or those damaged by storm winds, and there is often a public safety element to the process as well.
On the other hand, trimming is more of an aesthetic consideration. The branches removed might be in good health, but growing in an odd place or position, or growing towards nearby buildings where they are not wanted.
Some plants prefer to be pruned later in the winter season, after the last frost has thawed. If this winter remains cold and crisp, that could take us quite a way into 2022.
Apple trees and grapevines are fine to prune immediately, and cutting your apple tree back to a wine glass shape should encourage additional fruit growth in the next year.
Roses and clematis can also be pruned early in winter, whereas lavender, buddleia and ornamental grasses are all best left untouched until the warmer weather of springtime sets in.
Pollarding is the process of pruning to encourage new shoots to grow next year. In general, shoots should be cut close to the base, which reduces the risk of disease and removes as much as possible of the unwanted wood from your shrub or tree.
When pruning apple trees to encourage fruit growth, aim for that wine glass silhouette, with evenly spaced branches, and leave a hollow centre rising up from the trunk.
Ornamental trees can be trimmed back to maintain a pleasing aesthetic. Aim to thin out the growth rather than severely cutting back entire sections of the tree.
Shaping the foliage on a tree for aesthetic effect is called topiary, so remember the P’s and the T’s: pollarding is pruning, and topiary is trimming.