Short cuts

Pruning – when done correctly – is essential to keep plants healthy and happy. We tell you why, and how to go about it.
Pruning is an important part of caring for plants, as are watering and feeding, and it's not only seasoned gardeners who should be attempting to master more advanced pruning techniques. Even if you're a novice you can use a pair of pruning shears with great success once you know the basics.

Why should you prune?

  • Shape: Trees and shrubs that have been damaged by machinery, vandals or bad weather need to be pruned to restore their shape.
  • Disease and pest control: Prune twigs or branches that are sick or dead. This will also improve 'coverage' of the plant so that pesticides can be applied thoroughly and with greater ease.
  • More light: Get rid of low-hanging branches that are no longer people friendly, or that cast too much shade over flowerbeds and lawns.
  • New growth: Pruning stimulates healthy new growth, which will eventually yield more flowers or fruit.
  • Aesthetics and shelter: Plants can be pruned into specific shapes simply for decorative purposes or to form a more formal hedge. Prune trees and large shrubs from the outset to emphasise the shape and to accommodate growth.
  • Subdue uninhibited growth: Plants such as bougainvilleas and creepers that take over trees, gutters, and power lines can be brought under control.
  • Frost and other winter damage: Pruning gets rid of parts that have been destroyed by the cold, and breathes new life into damaged ones.
  • It's neat: Prune your plants throughout the year to keep them neat and in shape.

    Plants with pruning quirks

  • Rosemary doesn't like being pruned back too sharply.
  • Garland May (Spiraea): The untidy autumn appearance of these plants is misleading. Only start pruning once the spring flowers have disappeared. Remember, the plant flowers on bare winter stems.
  • Lavender: Prune lightly and regularly. Keep the shape round so that the sunlight can stimulate thick growth over the entire plant, all the way to ground level.
  • Hedges: The bottom should be wider than the top because the lateral branches need sufficient light, otherwise bare patches will soon start to appear.
  • Conifers grow actively from autumn to spring, and this is also the right time to shape them neatly. Don't cut into the old wood behind the healthy foliage – rather remove the points of growth with a pair of sharp scissors.
  • Peach trees: Prune them annually, preferably when they are already in full bloom. This will prevent the tree from being overburdened by too many small fruit, and also stimulate the growth of new branches for the following year's harvest. If the fruit that is left behind is roughly the size of walnuts, thin it out until there's only one for every 15-20cm of branch.
  • Ground cover: Plants such as periwinkle (Vinca major) and carpet geranium or mountain tea (Geranium incanum) must be pruned sharply to ensure thick cover and to keep them in check.

    Click here for more great pruning tips from Home magazine.

    Photographs: Jan Ras

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    April 2023

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