1. Why prune in winter?
Winter is the time of year when many plants are dormant and without rising sap which means the plants won’t bleed when being cut. Without their leaves on it’s much easier to see the structure and form of the plant and therefore it will make knowing where to cut much easier.
Many plants, especially fruit trees and bushes respond well to winter pruning, it increases their vigour and encourages a more bountiful harvest. It’s a great time to tackle any pest and disease damage.
2. Know your plants
Although many plants respond well to winter pruning, some benefit from early or later winter pruning but there are some that should not be pruned during the winter.
Plants that benefit from winter pruning include:
- Apples, pears and fig trees.
- Most roses, including bush and climbing roses.
- Fruit bushes including gooseberries, red and blackcurrants, blueberries and autumn fruiting raspberries.
- Deciduous shrubs and ornamental trees that have outgrown their space or need shaping.
- Wisteria and mid to late summer flowering clematis.
Plants not to prune in winter:
- Fruit tress including plum and cherries - these can be pruned in mid-summer.
- Rambling roses.
- Spring flowering shrubs.
- Evergreen shrubs.
3. Prune dead, diseased and damaged
Before beginning to look at shaping your tree or shrub look for the 3 ‘D’s. These are:
- Dead – remove any obviously dead branches.
- Diseased – remove any diseased branches back to healthy wood.
- Damaged – look for branches that rub or cross each other. This will cause damage that encourages disease.
Always make sure you clean your tools, ideally with disinfectant when dealing with diseased wood before you move onto healthy wood otherwise you risk spreading the disease.
Always make a clean, angled cut just above an outward facing bud to facilitate healing. Properly dispose of diseased material to prevent spread, and make sure you don’t chip or compost it. Consider using the Clear™ products for additional protection against common disease and garden pests.
4. Shape and structure
One of the main reasons for winter pruning is to establish a framework. This is especially useful on very young plants when you can train them into the shape you want such as fan training, espalier or cordon.
For mature plants, prune to create a well-proportioned and balanced shape, even growth, with maximum sunlight penetration and air circulation. When pruning fruit trees aim for a goblet shape to help achieve this.
5. Fruit trees
Tailor your pruning approach based on the type of fruit tree in your garden. Follow our growing guides for detailed instructions.
Apple and pear trees benefit from opening the canopy, removing spindly water shoots, and cutting back long growth. Check if your apple trees have fruiting spurs or are tip bearing.
If your apple or pear tree is mature make sure you don’t hard prune. Aim to only prune a 3rd over 3 years. This will prevent lots of leggy, non-fruiting growth and reduces the tree's chance of going into shock.
Generally, most roses will benefit from a hard prune in winter, but different types of roses can require specific pruning techniques.
Hybrid tea roses need cutting back to stimulate new growth and the removal of dead or weak canes. Shrub roses benefit from shaping and dead wood removal. You can gain further insights from this video.
Climbing roses can be pruned and re tied to their support but leave Rambling roses to the summer. If you are planting a bare root rose in winter, it’s always a good idea to cut it back hard as this will promote all the energy going into root production.