Winter pruning trees and shrubs

29. November 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
Categories: About gardening, English Blog, Seasons, Winter | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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Winterschnitt - Ahorn freigeschnitten © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Gently lifted maple tree

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – auf Deutsch lesen – The nights are getting cold, the last leaves are just being shed, the garden comes to rest. It is time for nature and man to rest and recuperate. Plants have a short break before the new season starts again with its new challenges. This dormancy is a good time to take a closer look at your plants and see if everything is ok or if a little pruning is needed in order to maintain the vigour and appearance of your plants. Take your secateurs and pruning saw and go out into the garden. Look out for plants that has dead or diseased wood, that needs to be brought back into shape. After all each plant has its individual habit, which is very much part of its character. Every so often your help is required to restore or maintain a plant’s personality.  

Remove dead or weakened shoots affected by the summer’s drought

Winterschnitt - Buddleja © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Buddleja – annual pruning to keep it compact and to bring light into the bed

Particularly after this past growing season, some plants may benefit from pruning. The spring was long and mild, which was beneficial for new growth and resulted in a long flowering season. The protracted flowering period resulted in good pollination, the results of which were visible this autumn with a good crop of fruits, nuts and berries. The prolonged period of drought has meant that some plants have had to abort some of their fruits, or could no longer sustain some of the shoots, resulting in early loss of fruits or branches drying. These dead or weakened shoots should be cut.

Revisit earlier pruned plants

After pruning, some plants will react by either producing many new shoots, or generating “water shoots”, growing vertically up through the crown. In the long-term a tree will have difficulty supporting the weight of these branches as they mature and thicken, and it will affect the harmonious beauty of the plant.

Provide light for neigbouring plants

Pfaffenhut- Platz machen! © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Make space!

As trees and shrubs establish and become bigger, they will take away more light from neighbouring plants. Occasionally it is worth checking if some crowns need gentle lifting by removing lower branches, or others need pruning back. In either case it is better to work in many gentle steps and check regularly on the overall appearance. It is all too easy to turn a tree into a toilet brush, as the stem/crown proportion is ruined, or create a lop-sided shrub.

Cut to retain the natural form

Gardens where the shrubs have been reduced to characterless puddings are terrible. Gabriella also calls this the Aldi Carpark cut when, with the help of hedge trimmers, they are all reduced to the same height and width, regardless of what it is. Try to prune so, that the tree or shrub can continue to grow as if nothing happened. That they can retain their natural shape and personality. Each plant has its own character and can only express its individuality through its form. Try to understand before you start, what this is, by observing the plant more loosely, or reading up about it.  

  • Work from the tip of a branch back towards the center of the plant,
  • cutting at a fork or natural junction
  • Do not leave stumps
  • If you cut back to the main stem, do not cut flush with the trunk

When you look closely, the bark at the stem-junction looks like wrinkled skin. It is vital you do not cut beyond this area. In these critical places, trees will build up an internal protective barrier, so that if a branch stump rots, it cannot reach deep into the trunk. If you cut too far, the plant cannot form this vital barrier, and decay can penetrate deep into the trunk.

Prune little but regularly

It is easier for a tree to cope with regular pruning of smaller branches than with cutting off thicker branches once every so many years. The reason is simple: after the cut the wound has to heal, just like with humans. Over time, the cut will be covered with a fresh layer of protective bark again. The bigger the cut, the longer it will take before the wound has healed. Using treebalm, a special paste to cover wounds, is no longer promoted. It is better to leave the cut open so that it stays dry. The danger with the balm is that moisture builds up underneath it, encouraging rot. 

Go easy!

Start carefully, and step back regularly to look at the overall shape of the plant. It is always possible to cut a little more. It is impossible to repair once you have pruned too much. It can take a tree or shrub many years to regain a pleasing shape when badly cut. Some will never do so. My heart bleeds when driving through Berlin, looking at the many trees that line streets or grow in front gardens. It is rare to see one that has not been ruined at some stage or other, by inconsiderate pruning.

As long as there is no severe Frost, it is wonderful to wrap up warm and go out with a good pair of secateurs and small pruning saw and enjoy a few hours in the garden. Enjoy sculpting those beautiful garden companions, or if you do not trust yourself, click here and ask our skilled gardening team to take care of your most precious plants.  This way you will be able to enjoy their beautiful bare architectural presence in the months to come. 

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