Gardens That Look After You
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Snip Snip! Winter Pruning

Why Prune?
Winter pruning
We are well and truly in the middle of winter now so that means that some of our garden trees and shrubs might be needing a good trim soon. Don’t stop there because lots of other plant types can do with the winter snip! While pruning can test the courage of the beginner gardener, who may be fearful of doing ‘the wrong thing’ and perhaps killing off their plants, following a few basic guidelines is all it takes to successfully get your garden into shape.
Why prune at all? While it may seem rather romantic to hold back the pruning for the gardener who has visions of organic, wild rambling vistas, most plants grow stronger, healthier, and more abundantly with a good cut back every now and then. Along with the removal of dead or diseased matter, pruning enables us to also guide a plant to the shape, direction and sometimes size that we may want. Thinning out plants to increase air circulation and light or to slow the growth of fast-growing plants are other reasons to grab the secateurs. It’s also an important task for those growing flowers and food, as pruning increases the production of both. While there are plants that never require any pruning, others will need to be regularly maintained and some can easily get away with a careful trim every five to ten years.

Winter Pruning
As a rule of thumb, younger plants can usually tolerate pruning at any time. This is because they are in a faster growth phase of their lives and can regenerating themselves quickly. Older plants should be pruned in the time that’s advisable for them and to be safe? Stick with these times for all your garden plant buddies. If in any doubt, check with your local nursery or a reliable published resource. Be careful when using books or online sites that advise you of the month you should be pruning instead of actual seasons as they might not be referring to Australia! The following is a small selection that may require some trimming attention late winter. Deciduous shrubs, apples, pears, European and Japanese plums, figs, persimmons, pomegranates, peaches, nectarines, cherries, quinces, winter flowering natives and give overgrown trees and shrubs the once over as well. When something has completed flowering or fruiting or is in a dormant state, it’s a good time to prune.

Pruning Tools
Bypass secateurs are an all-rounder tool that will see you through with most small to medium pruning jobs. They are best suited however to soft materials, twigs, and small branches. Moving up from there to thicker branches, anvil secateurs will be needed or a pruning saw, which will take you up to even bigger branches. If you can only afford two pruning tools, pick the bypass pruners and the pruning saw. Buy the best quality you can afford and look after your tools by always cleaning them after use and storing safely. Maintenance includes sharpening, perhaps oiling moving parts and replacing worn parts as needed. On that point, look out for tools with replaceable parts.

Safety First
Tools must be sharp and in good working condition and you must be familiar with the way they work. Eye protection is important as sticks and branches have a habit of snapping in all directions. Always work away from you and if using ladders to reach higher parts, make sure that you and your ladder are completely stable. Assume all plants are toxic so wear gloves for this purpose as well as cut protection, don’t touch your face while working and cover any open wounds you have with bandages. Wash any cuts or scrapes you acquire while pruning immediately. To keep plants safe, disinfect your tools as you move from plant to plant to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

How to Prune
Aim to make oblique cuts, on a downward angle, just above an outward facing node or bud. When cutting larger branches, do so in sections by taking off the weight of the branch from the outer most tip bit by bit. Trying to cut a large heavy branch from a tree will usually end with the branch tearing once the weight falls. This will open the tree up to infection and could topple you to the ground with it.
Your first course of action is to remove all dead, dying and diseased parts, then move on to shaping or thinning of the plant. There are lots of different examples of exactly how to shape and prune your plant dependant on type to be found online or in publications. Examples include rose winter pruning - aim to open the interior by removing any crossing branches and try to shape the bush to even length branches. Deciduous fruit trees are usually pruned into a vase shape as this allows maximum light to fall into the middle of the tree.

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Cheralyn is a home & garden author and along with Pete Little, 

hosts ‘Home with The Gardening Gang’
8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM96.3
contact via:

She also writes the weekly 'DOWN IN THE GARDEN' page for the Coast News Newspaper and this originally appeared in The Coast News.