March in the Garden
It’s performed on living things for maximum impact and to display the subject in the best possible way, but, like hairdressing, I suspect pruning cannot be learned successfully from pictures in a book.
The problem with the book is that it always displays perfect models, whereas we probably have to deal with more imperfect ones.
At the risk of getting myself deeper into hot water from here, I will restrict my comments from now on more specifically to the pruning of plants and leave the hair to the people who know about such things.
The recent very cold spell of a few weeks ago no doubt will cause some problems later on in the spring. Chances are that the bark of some shrubs has been split at the ground level allowing the usual flush of spring growth to take place from the existing sap, but due to the now split stems no further sap rise can take place and the top of the plant eventually will die, usually in mid summer.
If this does occur don’t be too hasty to pull such plants up as many shrubs can re-grow from the base again, eg. eucryphia and pieris. As a rule pruning is a ritual we all like to get ourselves involved in. It has to be said that plants in the wild, to some extent, will prune themselves naturally, shedding dying and diseased branches of their own accord.
Gardeners have simply expanded this process, introducing techniques to encourage more or less growth in certain plants or to encourage the production of flowers or fruit.
Pruning techniques are always a subject for discussion, especially when it comes to hybrid and floribunda roses. Experiments some years ago carried out at the Rose Society grounds proved that rose ‘gardens’ could be pruned by the use of a hedge trimmer rather than secateurs, and indeed, I have used this method.
I would have to say though, that the plants do begin to suffer using this method after the third year when the plants accumulate a fair amount of weak growth, especially on floribundas.
So where does that leave us? I think if you have just a few roses I would prune them in the traditional way with secateurs, pruning out any dead and decaying matter, taking out as much growth in the centre as possible and pruning the strong outside growths down to two or three buds from the base. Remember to prune down to an outward facing bud to encourage growth on the outside of the plant.
Apart from roses, other plants will need pruning immediately after they have flowered. Forsythia is one such plant. After flowering all the stems which have flowered should be cut out as far down as possible to some new growth, as this new growth will become next year’s flowering stems.
Plants such as hypericum and summer flowering spirea can be cut down now and the last year’s dead heads can now be removed form the hydrangeas.
Finally, just a word on tools for pruning. Everyone will have their favourites, but particularly with secateurs, I prefer to use the ‘by-pass’ rather than ‘anvil’ secateurs. The reason is, as the name suggests, one blade bypasses another and, providing they are sharp, they will give a good clean cut which is just as important to the plant as the use of sharpened scissors on you at the hairdressers!
Summary Flower Garden
• Plant out autumn sown sweet peas and make spring sowings
• Plant trees and shrubs until end of the month - making sure that the ground has been prepared properly
• Finish off planting of hedges and clean out the bottoms of established hedges
• Sow carrots under cloches
• Plant asparagus - it’s better to plant two year old crowns in order to take production forward one year
• Sow early salad crops - you may need some fleece to cover the ground in order to warm it up
• Sow tomatoes • Start dahlias into growth in some gentle heat • Feed overwintered geraniums and pelargoniums with a liquid feed every ten days.