Pruning masterclass

There are lots of shrubs and woody climbers that need pruning during the year. Roses and summer-flowering clematis should be pruned any time from late February to mid-March as well as winter and spring-flowering shrubs after they’ve finished flowering.

Rather than relying on the time of year to decide exactly when to prune, I look for signs of leaf bud break - a good indication that the plants have started into growth. After all, plants don’t have diaries, they depend on the weather and light levels!

After pruning, you should give the plants a feed with a slow-release or continuous-release granular fertiliser to give them the energy for strong regrowth and a fabulous display. I find that rose feeds are usually a good choice for all flowering shrubs and that’s what I give mine.


This is the time to carry out the main formative pruning of bush and climbing roses. Generally, the harder you prune the better the regrowth and the display of roses. Start by cutting out any thin, dead, diseased, damaged, rubbing or crossing stems and then prune back the remainder.

Hybrid teas: shorten last year’s strong shoots to 10-15cm (4-6in), weaker ones to two to three buds.

Floribundas: shorten strong shoots to 23-30cm (9-12in). Prune back less vigorous shoots more severely.

Climbers: cut back the main branches by about one-third and shorten side shoots to two to three buds.

Summer-flowering clematis

Those varieties that start flowering in May and June (Group 2 varieties) should be cut back by around half to two-thirds, just above a bud. Those that start flowering in July or later (Group 3) need harder pruning, cutting them back to a bud roughly 30-45cm (12-18in) above ground level, or you could cut back half the stems in this way and prune the remaining half less severely; this produces flowers over a greater area and at different times.

Don’t prune the spring-flowering species, such as C. alpina, C. macropetala and C. montana - which is left until after they’ve finished flowering - as you’ll be cutting off the flowering growth and flower buds and won’t get a display this year!

Winter and spring-flowering shrubs

These shrubs can be pruned immediately after flowering, removing the flowering growth and thinning out up to one in three of the oldest stems. Winter-flowering heathers benefit from trimming back as soon as they finish flowering. You don’t have to be too fussy and can use a pair of hedge shears. Simply cut back the flowered stems plus about 2.5cm (1in) of the leafy growth below these stems. This not only ensures compact, bushy plants but also improves flowering. Trimming should be done annually because heathers do not reshoot from old, woody growth.

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