How to prune mock orange?

Mock Orange Pruning Tips: Cutting Back Mock Orange Shrubs

Garden center customers frequently come to me with questions like, “should I prune mock orange that didn’t flower this year.” My answer is: yes. For the overall general health of the shrub, mock orange pruning should be done once a year, not just when it doesn’t bloom or has gotten overgrown. Even dwarf varieties need a good pruning each year. Continue reading to learn how to trim mock orange shrubs.

Pruning a Mock Orange

Mock orange is an old-fashioned favorite with its large white, fragrant flowers blooming in late spring. Hardy in zones 4-9, most varieties mature to a height of 6-8 feet and have a natural vase shape. With a just little maintenance, a mock orange shrub can be a beautiful addition to your landscape for many years.

Before pruning any plants, you should always sanitize your pruners or loppers to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. You can simply do this by wiping the tools down with a mixture of bleach and water or rubbing alcohol and water. Be sure to get the cutting surfaces of the tools.

If you are pruning a mock orange because it is infected by a pest or disease, dip your pruners in water and bleach or rubbing alcohol between each cut to avoid the risk of further infection.

Mock orange blooms on the previous year’s wood. Like lilac, mock orange bushes should be pruned right after blooms have faded, so you do not accidentally cut off next year’s flowers. Since mock orange blooms in late spring to early summer, they are usually cut back once a year in late May or June.

It is recommended that mock orange shrubs not be pruned or deadheaded after July to ensure blooms the next spring. However, if you just purchased and planted a mock orange, you should wait until the following year before doing any deadheading or pruning.

How to Trim Mock Orange

Pruning a mock orange each year after it blooms will keep the plant healthy and looking good. When cutting back mock orange shrubs, cut back the branches with spent bloom about 1/3 to 2/3 their length. Also, cut out any old or dead wood back to the ground.

Branches that are crowded or crossing should also be cut to open up the center of the plant to air, sunlight and rain water. When pruning anything, always discard the cut branches immediately to avoid the spread of pests and disease.

In time, mock orange shrubs may get gnarly looking or become less productive. If this happens, you can give the whole shrub a hard rejuvenation pruning by cutting it all back to 6-12 inches from the ground. This should be done in winter or early spring while the plant is still dormant. You most likely will not get any blooms that spring, but the plant will grow back healthier and provide blooms the following season.

When & How to Prune Mock Orange Bushes?

Jasmine image by Elzbieta Sekowska from Fotolia.com

Fragrant mock orange bushes are an old-fashioned summertime delight. The best clusters of white flowers grow on new shoots that emerge from pruned areas of the deciduous shrub. Pruning the mock orange bush will add to healthy growth, lush blossoms and plant longevity. A healthy mock orange bush will grow from 4 to 8 feet in height and can last for decades. Choose pruning shears for suckers and branches that are to 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Lopping shears work well for live growth up to 1 to 4 inches in diameter and dead branches.

Pull the branches to the side of the plant to see if the center is overgrown. Prune in late winter or early spring. Wear gloves to protect your hands.

Cut the dead branches away from the plant with the pruning or lopping shears. Cut the dead wood down to the ground. Toss it to one side to keep your work area clear of debris. This thinning method helps prevent disease and encourages new growth.

Shape the mock orange bush by cutting back lengthy or straggly branches to better define the overall shape. Cut the branch on an angle, 1/4 inch above a healthy bud or branch. The bud must be on the side of the branch where new growth is encouraged. Notice that the woody branches are stiff. Remove branches from the interior and outside of the bush. Do not prune away more than one-third of a mock orange bush at a time.

Cut away sucker growth that sprouts light green, spindly shoots from the base of branches of the bush using pruning shears. Check at ground level and remove sucker growth there during the summer.

Thin out newly developed plant shoots on a two-year-old plant to control the shape of the bush in the spring. Do not prune younger bushes vigorously. Pinch off the ends of the green shoots on a newly planted mock orange bush to promote growth of branches.

Prune away the dead flower clusters on the bush after the blossoms have completely faded.

Native Plant: Mock Orange

Common Name: Mock Orange

Binomial Name: Philadelphus lewisii

Soil Type: Drought-tolerant

Sunlight: Full to partial sun

Plant Type: Small shrub

Form: Rounded

Foliage: Deciduous

Fruit/Flower: Yes, both

The binomial/scientific name for Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii, originates from the Pacific Northwest explorer, Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis and Clark expedition), who collected the plant in 1806. Native Americans have also long used Mock Orange for a variety of purposes; the hard wood was ideal for furniture and tools, while the leaves and bark can be used with water as a natural soap.

Mock Orange gets its common name from the native plant’s sweet and citrusy scent, reminiscent of oranges with a hint of pineapple. At the end of their long stems, the Mock Orange produces clusters of flowers each with four white petals and yellow stamens. This round shrub grows to 1.5 to 3 meters tall, and when the flowers are in full bloom, the plant appears covered in blossoms. The light green leaves are opposite (two leaves grow from the stem at the same level, on opposite sides of the stem), with serrated edges and a rough texture. Its fruit is a centimeter-long hard, winged capsule containing brown seeds.

Along with the strong, fruity scent and showy flowers, Mock Orange’s tolerance to poor soils and drought make this an ideal choice for those seeking a low-maintenance deciduous shrub for almost any landscape or garden. This plant is also a wonderful pick to attract wildlife like butterflies with beautiful, fragrant blossoms. But because their flowers also tend to attract bees, Mock Orange is best when placed away from doors.

This Native Plant of the Month has been brought to you by the City of Beaverton’s Landscape and Urban Forestry Department along with Clean Water Services. Visit Clean Water Service’s Native Plant Finder webpage for interactive questions to help you find the right native plant to fit your needs!

Lewis’s Mockorange

Philadelphus lewisii

by Kathy Lloyd, Montana Native Plant Society

It’s no wonder that Meriwether Lewis collected specimens of Lewis’s mockorange, or syringa as it is also known. This beautiful, deciduous shrub, with sweet-smelling white flowers, would have caught the attention of the expedition’s naturalist. Indeed, there are two specimens of Lewis’s mockorange mounted on a single specimen sheet in the Lewis & Clark Herbarium in Philadelphia today. The first specimen was collected on May 6, 1806 along the Clearwater River in Idaho. The annotation made by the botanist Frederick Pursh, who was commissioned to look at the expedition’s plant specimens, says, ” A Shrub from the Kooskoosky. May 6th 1806. An Philadelphus?” The second specimen was collected in Montana along the Clark Fork River between Grant Creek and the Blackfoot River. This collection was made on July 4, 1806. Lewis and his party of men were on their way to the Marias River drainage, while Clark and his party headed south. The label applied by Frederick Pursh to the Montana specimen says, “On the waters of Clarks R Jul. 4th 1806.”

Lewis’s mockorange was new to western science and Pursh named the plant in honor of Meriwether Lewis, calling it Philadelphus lewisii. The genus Philadelphus has recently been placed in the Philadelphaceae family, but it traditionally has been considered a member of the hydrangea (Hydrangeaceae) family. Today, Lewis’s mockorange is the state flower of Idaho.

Lewis’s mockorange can be found in the northwestern United States and southern Canada, from southern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta (where it is rare) south to California, Idaho, and western Montana. Lewis and Clark probably noticed it as they traveled through Montana and Idaho in 1805, but both collections were made on the return trip in 1806.

This attractive shrub commonly occurs in open coniferous forests, on the edges of forests, and on slopes with other shrubs such as common chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia). It often occurs with the shrub ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) on talus slopes in western Montana. It thrives in well-drained, moist draws and riparian areas, where Lewis collected it, and does best with a northern or eastern exposure.

Lewis’s mockorange can grow from three to 10 feet tall and has stiff, erect stems. The showy, white flowers have the scent of orange blossoms and occur in clusters of three to 15 on the lateral branches. Each flower has four petals, four styles and numerous stamens. The leaves are opposite and simple. The shrub can reproduce both vegetatively and by seed, and can sprout from the root crown following fire or other disturbance. Flowering of Lewis’s mockorange occurs from May through July. The specimen that Lewis collected in May in Idaho was in flower, while the one from July in Montana was not.

Lewis’s mockorange provides some winter forage for deer, both white-tailed and mule, and elk in the northern Rocky Mountains, but the percentage is fairly small. At times, however, it is heavily browsed. Since Lewis’s mockorange is generally not a preferred browse species, range managers can use it to determine the quality and quantity of browse species and gauge the extent of the deer population. The new sprouts are very palatable and are consumed by deer and elk. Quail and squirrels eat Lewis’s mockorange seeds and the dense shrub habitat common with Lewis’s mockorange provides good cover for wildlife.

Native Americans in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest used Lewis’s mockorange to fill numerous needs. Various salves and compresses were used externally to relieve swellings, as an antirheumatic, for sores, hemorrhoids and eczema. A decoction was taken internally for lung problems and as a cathartic. The strong, hard branches of Lewis’s mockorange were used for bows, arrows, digging sticks, fish spears, and clubs. Brooms, combs, tobacco pipes, cradle hoops, and snow shoes were also constructed using material from Lewis’s mockorange. Today, Lewis’s mockorange is cultivated as an ornamental and makes a lovely addition to a native plant garden or any other landscape setting. Lewis’s mockorange is one of our special plants, both because of the history attached to the species and because of the niche it fills in our native bionetwork. Plan a trip to the woods in May or June and take time to smell Lewis’s mockorange and think about the years it has been a part of our Montana landscape and the first white men to smell its wonderful fragrance.

MOCK ORANGE (PHILADELPHUS) SHRUB

Article by David Marks
The Mock Orange (Philadelphus) shrub originates from a variety of regions around the world including Central and North America, parts of Asia and South-eastern Europe. They are deciduous (loose their leaves in winter) and produce their flowers for about five weeks in mid June to late August depending on local conditions. They are frequently planted by councils in parks and on estates for the simple reason that they look beautiful in flower but require almost no attention.

BEST CONDITIONS TO GROW PHILADELPHUS (MOCK ORANGE)

Mock Orange grow well on a wide variety of soils from heavy clay to light well-drained soils. They put down deep roots so are rarely affected by drought. They do prefer a full sun or partial shade position if they are to produce the best flowers.

If you are planting a new one it will need watering over the first summer but that’s about it! They are very frost hardy and withstand windy conditions well. This makes them sound like ideal shrubs for almost all of the UK and this is definitely the case.

Mock Orange (Philadelphus) in full flower

FLOWERING AND FOLIAGE

The flowers are produced freely and cover most of the shrub when in full flower. The most commonly planted varieties have pure white flowers.

The foliage is mid to dark green (see picture below) and unremarkable, this hardy shrub is grown primarily for its flowers.

Leaves of Mock Orange.
Click picture to see more clearly

They are readily available as potted plants from many garden centres and they grow well in medium to large sized containers.

Keep them watered well as with most pot plants, feed three times a year with blood fish and bone for a perfect potted shrub. In August gather up the stems and cut off the top third of the growth – pruning them really is that easy.

HOW TO PRUNE MOCK ORANGE (PHILADELPHUS)

The time to prune a Mock Orange is in August soon after it has finished flowering. Much could be made of the techniques to use when pruning this shrub but in reality a hedge trimmer or a pair of secateurs can simply be used to keep it in shape. That is what council gardeners do and it works perfectly. The shrub grows vigorously so they are normally cut down to 1m / 3ft high which will result in a shrub about 1.6m / 5ft high the next year when it flowers.

DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF MOCK ORANGE (PHILADELPHUS)

There are endless varieties of Mock Orange and four of them have been awarded an AGM by the RHS but in truth all of the common varieties make excellent plants for the small to medium sized garden.

Varieties which can readily be found include Belle Etoile (white flowers), Virginal (white flowers) and Aureus which has variegated foliage. The Botanic Gardens at Cambridge are an excellent place to see Mock Orange in their natural habitat. to visit their site. As far as we are aware there is no designated national Collection of Mock Oranges in the UK.

PESTS OF MOCK ORANGE

This shrub is one of the most disease resistant ones around. However they do have one weakness, especially when grown in containers, that is black fly. They appear in late May to early June, just at the time that the flowers are beginning to appear. See the picture below where they appear on several of the stems.

Generally, the black fly gather on the ends of stems and this makes them relatively easy to wash away with a gentle blast of water. Alternatively, systemic sprays can be used to kill them, follow the instructions carefully especially about the time of day day to apply the spray. Spraying in the evening limits, but does not entirely remove, the collateral damage to beneficial insects such as bees.

MOCK ORANGE SUMMARY

Below we list the key strengths and weaknesses of the Mock Orange.

HARDY (to -18°C)
CLAY SOIL Yes
SANDY SOIL Yes
DRY SOIL No
SHADE No, partial, full sun
EVERGREEN No
EASY CARE
SMALL GARDENS Yes
POT / CONTAINER Yes
FLOWERING
FLOWER TIME June to July

Other “easy-care” shrubs in this series include Choisya, Hebes, Skimmia, Lilacs, Potentilla and Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus).

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August pruning of trees, shrubs and climbers

Late summer is the best time to prune many midsummer-flowering shrubs to keep them vigorous and flowering well. It is also the ideal time to prune several trees that are prone to bleeding if pruned at other times, and it’s not too late to complete the pruning jobs for July if you haven’t got round to them yet. I’ve given practical advice for pruning Buddleja alternifolia,>Genista hispanica, Grevillea, Helianthemum, Laurus, Nerium, Philadelphus, Pyracantha and Thymus.

SHRUBS

Buddleja alternifolia

This elegant deciduous shrub bears its scented flowers on stems produced the previous year. So to ensure good flowering next year you need to prune immediately after flowering is over, which can be anytime from late June to the beginning of August. Remove any dead or damaged growth and shorten lop-sided or over-long shoots to balance the overall shape of the shrub. Old and neglected shrubs can be rejuvenated by cutting out one-in-three stems, starting with the oldest. Either cut them back to a sideshoot lower down or remove them completely. You will loose some flowering shoots for next year but the shrub will be the better for it in subsequent years. Alternatively, cut back two-thirds of the oldest stems immediately after flowering.

Callistemon (bottlebrush)

The flowers of this exotic beauty are produced on the tips of new shoots. Encourage bushy growth when young by tip-pruning after flowering in summer. Well established plants do not usually need routine pruning, but if they out-grow their allotted space or have become neglected, they can be reduced in size by pruning in stages over two or three summers, cutting back older wood to younger, outward-facing shoots immediately after flowering. This will encourage new shoots from the base.

Elaeagnus

Deciduous Elaeagnus angustifolia and E. umbellata varieties require little routine pruning other than the removal of dead or damaged stems. Old and neglected plants can be rejuvenated by cutting back one-in-three stems, starting with the oldest. Give hedges their final trim next month. Evergreen varieties of Elaeagnus x ebbingei, E. glabra, E. macrophylla and E. pungens require little routine pruning other than the removal of dead or damaged stems. Overly long shoots that spoil the shrub’s shape can be cut back to a bud using secateurs. Remove any plain green-leaved shoots as soon as they appear, cutting them back to their origin. Evergreen hedges can be trimmed at this time of year too.

x Fatshedera

This hybrid between Fatsia and Hedera makes a splendid evergreen groundcover plant in mild areas. It can also be trained as a standard and as a climber. Little or no pruning is required other than the removal of wayward shoots and stems damaged by frost. At this time of the year, cut back vertical shoots on groundcover plants to keep them neat and compact and trim and tie in shoots on trained forms.

Genista hispanica (broom)

These spreading deciduous shrubs put on a fabulous show in early summer on stems produced the previous year. To retain the plant’s bushy shape lightly trim the flowered stems immediately after flowering. Do not prune back into woody stems because they are unlikely to re-sprout and never prune back hard since this may kill the shrub. Do not prune Genista lydia at all, since this does not respond to being cut back. Old and neglected shrubs are best replaced.

Grevillea

In mild areas this exotic evergreen shrub can form an attractive summer-flowering specimen. Little or no pruning is required other than the removal of wayward shoots and stems damaged by frost. You can encourage a bushy habit by lightly prune the tips of new growth once flowering has finished. Trim informal grevillea hedges at this time of year too.

Ilex (holly)

Bushy evergreen hollies such as Ilex crenata as well as holly trees trained as hedges, such as the common or English holly, can be pruned to shape now that the growth has stopped but before the stems are fully ripened. It is important to leave the pruning of formal hedges to this time to avoid re-growth that will spoil the hedge’s neat outline. Always use a pair of secateurs so that you can avoid damaging the leaves that remain on the hedge after trimming. Remove any plain green-leaved shoots on variegated varieties as soon as they are noticed, cutting them back to their origin.

Laurus

Little or no pruning is usually required on informal shrubs, other than the removal of dead or damaged stems. However, you can keep topiarized shrubs neat and rounded by pruning new growth back using a pair of secateurs. Bay laurel trained as standards will need any new shoots cut from the main stem. Hedges can also be trimmed for the second this time of year.

Nerium

In mild areas this borderline-hardy evergreen shrub requires little or no pruning other than the removal of wayward shoots and stems damaged by frost. You can encourage a bushy habit by lightly pruning the tips of new growth once flowering has finished.

Philadelphus

Several philadelphus can be pruned at this time of year. You can prune mock orange (P. coronarius) now that flowering has finished to improve flowering for next year. Cut back flowered stems to a sideshoot that hasn’t produced flowers or to a plump bud. Congested plants can have one-in-three stems removed, starting with the oldest. Old and neglected plants can be rejuvenated in the same way. Alternatively you can prune in spring to get the best foliage displays. To ensure good flowering on Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ and ‘Virginal’ which bear their blooms on stems produced the previous year, prune immediately after flowering is over. Well-established shrubs should have one-in-four stems removed, starting with the oldest. Either cut them back to a sideshoot lower down or remove them completely. Feeding the plant after pruning will help encourage vigorous growth. Old and neglected plants can have all old stems cut back to ground level in winter or early spring. You will loose some flowering shoots for next year but the shrub will be the better for it in subsequent years.

Pyracantha (firethorn)

Although pyracantha is normally pruned in mid-spring, wall-trained specimens can be pruned for a second time at this time of the year to expose the developing fruit to make the most of the berry display.

Sophora

No routine pruning is usually necessary, other than the removal of dead flowers or damaged stems. This is best carried out during midsummer when the cuts are less likely to bleed. Wall-trained specimens need tying into their support and any wayward stems cut back or removed completely. Old and neglected plants are best replaced.

Thymus (thyme)

Little routine pruning is necessary other than the removal of dead or damaged stems. All plants should be rejuvenated by cutting back after flowering using garden shears to retain a neat, compact shape. But do not cut back into old wood since it is unlikely to re-sprout. Remove any plain green-leaved shoots on variegated varieties as soon as they appear, cutting them back to their origin.

TREES

Laburnum (golden rain)

Laburnums are best pruned during late summer because they are prone to bleeding if pruned in spring or early summer. However, you can also prune them anytime up until Christmas. Laburnums make excellent specimen trees or can be trained as an eye-catching standard or over a sturdy arch or pergola to help show off their spectacular flower trails. Specimen trees should only be pruned to improve the shape of the canopy and to remove damaged stems, while trained forms will need regular pruning to maintain the shape of the plant so that the flower trusses can be clearly seen. Take care to remove any shoots that appear from below the graft on grafted trees. Laburnums are prone to cavities after severe pruning if the collar at the base of the branch is damaged or stumps are left behind. For this reason it is worth raising the canopy when the tree is still young and keeping the stem clear as it grows.

Populus (poplar)

Most poplar trees will form an attractive, well-balanced canopy without intervention and so require no pruning other than the removal of crossing or wind-damaged branches. Young trees should also be encouraged to produce a clear trunk, so remove lower side branches to gradually raise the canopy as the tree grows. Also remove any suckers back to their origin unless you are growing the tree as a windbreak, in which case the suckers will provide protection right down to ground level. Old and neglected trees do not respond to hard pruning and are best replaced.

CLIMBERS

Billardiera

No routine pruning is required, other than the removal of crossing or damaged stems. Overgrown plants can be thinned by cutting back unwanted shoots to within a few buds of the main framework. This can be done now (after fruiting) or during early spring.

Clianthus (lobster claw)

Commonly called lobster claw or glory pea, this frost-tender evergreen climbing shrub can be grown outside in mild areas, where it will bear its distinctive flowers from spring to midsummer. Although no routine pruning is necessary, pruning when young and careful training will improve the overall display. Pinch out the shoot tips after planting to produce bushy growth from the base, then tie in new growth to the support. Once the support is covered, prune now that flowering is over to restrict its size and to remove any dead or damaged stems. Do not prune too heavily. Reduce older stems by about one-third to just above a well-placed side shoot lower down.

Hydrangea petiolaris (climbing hydrangea)

The climbing hydrangea is a popular, vigorous, deciduous plant that can be used to light-up north-facing walls with glossy foliage and heads of creamy white summer flowers. Although it can take a few years to get established, once it starts climbing there’s no stopping it. Little or no routine pruning is required, apart from removing the flowered shoots at this time of the year. To keep within bounds, prune back wayward shoots to a sideshoot lower down during the dormant season. Old and neglected plants can be cut back hard in winter, although you will miss out on the flowers for a few years.

Schizophragma

Little or no routine pruning is required, apart from removing the flowered shoots as they fade. Long, vigorous shoots can be cut back to a sideshoot lower down. Old and neglected plants do not respond well to severe pruning, so cut back over several years by removing one older shoot back to a new sideshoot near to the base each year and cut back overly long shoots by about one-third to keep the plant within bounds.

Next month: abelia, betula, carpinus, Jasminum officinale, lonicera and passiflora.

Nine tips for winter pruning

Pruning is done for a variety of reasons – to promote bigger harvests, get newly-planted trees and shrubs off to a good start, thin crowded stems, train cordons, fans and espaliers, encourage flowering, shape plants, remove diseased wood and promote vigour.

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With a few exceptions, all of these jobs can be done in winter, when bare stems make the job of shaping shrubs and spotting diseased growth much easier.

More pruning content:

  • Key plants to prune in winter
  • How to winter-prune trees and shrubs
  • Tips for better pruning

We explain why you need to prune in winter and provide our tips on doing it.

In winter, bare stems make the job of shaping shrubs and spotting diseased growth much easier.

Bigger harvests

Picking an apple

Having established a framework, the object of pruning is to persuade the plants to maximise fruiting. This differs with various types of fruiting plant. With apples, you prune to promote fruiting spurs, with pears you open up the trees to ripen the wood.

On blackcurrants you remove old wood, while gooseberries, redcurrants and whitecurrants should have their stems shortened by a quarter and any sideshoots back to one to three buds.

Autumn-fruiting raspberries should have all stems cut back to the ground, then feed and mulch in spring. On summer-fruiting raspberries, cut out the canes that have already produced fruit, to leave the new canes that have been produced that year.

Establishing plants

Establishing plants

When shrubs or trees are newly planted it’s important to encourage formation of a good root system. New shrubs should be cut back to a few buds so that the plant can devote its energy to putting down roots in the first season. New fruit bushes should be thinned to just three branches. Newly planted trees should be pruned to reduce the ‘sail’ effect of top growth, preventing wind-rock.

Thinning out

Thinning out stems with a pruning knife

On plants where growth is constantly renewed from ground level, the weak, spindly shoots should be removed, as well as some of the oldest stems. With plants such as hazel, the oldest shoots should be thinned out to prevent overcrowding. Simply remove large branches from older shrubs.

Training fruit trees

Alan Titchmarsh pruning a trained fruit tree into shape

Having established the main framework by tying in major branches to the support, side shoots should be reduced to two or three buds to make short spurs. Much of the work should be done in August and September, but it can be continued into winter. Discover three ways to train a fruit tree.

Promoting summer blooms

Pruning a buddleia with long-handled secateurs

Shrubs that flower after midsummer can produce flowers on new growth. They can be manipulated to ensure the flowers grow at the desired height. Branches can either be cut back hard or thinned into a nice shape. Large shrubs such as buddleia should be pruned hard to stop growth getting out of control, while smaller shrubs such as hardy fuchsias should be cut back to promote larger blooms.

Shaping up

Pruning a side-shoot from a shrub

Winter is the ideal time to assess and modify the shape and structure of almost any deciduous shrub whose canopy has become lopsided or whose branches are overcrowded in the centre.

Remove any stems that rub against each other, and aim to create an open-centred canopy that allows air to circulate freely. Use secateurs to cut stems that are up to 1cm in diameter, loppers on stems that are 1-2cm in diameter and a pruning saw on anything larger. Smaller stems can be cut flush with the branch from which they are being removed; those over 5cm in diameter should be left with a small knuckle – about 1cm of stem base – to aid wound healing.

Promoting health

A diseased branch

Diseased branches should be pruned out to maintain the health of many trees and shrubs, removing any dead, dying or diseased branches. Apples and pears should be pruned to remove branches infected with canker, magnolias should have dead stems removed to control verticillium wilt. Don’t prune plums and related species during winter – it can lead to the spread of silver-leaf disease.

The stems of Japanese maples often turn pale grey and strawy-brown when wind damaged. Snip these out as soon as you see them, along with any stems that have been ‘ring-barked’ by disease lower down – you’ll see a pale grey patch of stem rather than a deep purple-brown bark on coloured-leaved types and the foliage above will lack vigour.

Aiding vigour

Pruning to increase vigour

Pruning in this way removes weaker stems to promote stronger growth of existing stems, or removes existing stems altogether to encourage fresh, new growth.

Plants grown for their colourful winter stems, such as dogwood, Cornus alba, and white willow, Salix alba, should be cut back hard or ‘stooled’ in late winter or early spring, to around 15cm above ground level. Other shrubs should have the thinnest, spindly growth removed. Only start hard pruning these plants a year or so after planting, to allow their roots to get down into rich, moist soil.

Alternatively, just prune out half the stems, removing the oldest and leaving the youngest for the winter spectacle.

Rejuvenate a tired shrub

Philadelphus ‘Minnesota Snowflake’

It’s a good idea to assess all your shrubs in winter, looking out for general tiredness and lack of vigour. This can often be attributed to hunger, in which case feeding and manuring in spring will help, but may also be down to the age of the stems.

Shrubs like weigela and philadelphus benefit from having some of the older stems removed each year to encourage new, more productive ones to grow up. You can also do this pruning in late spring and early summer, after flowering.

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Use loppers to cut back these old stems either to ground level, or back to a point at which growth is emerging. Doing this annually will markedly improve the vigour of more mature shrubs.

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