Gardening courses 2024

Winter pruning - Rejuvenating old shrubs

Winter can be quite a productive time in the garden. Of course, any activity is weather dependant so when the ground is wet or frozen you are better contemplating the garden from the inside, preferably with a cup of tea to hand.

However, if conditions are favourable, winter is a really good time to rejuvenate overgrown deciduous shrubs. There are a few reasons for this:

-          The plant is dormant so pruning is less of a shock to the plants system

-          Sap flow is slow, so “bleeding” is minimal

-          Without the leaves in the way, you can get a clear view of what needs doing

Where to start

Shrubs which shoot from the base

The mistake people often make when pruning is to simply lop the top of the shrub off to make it smaller This leads to an unnatural looking shrub and also promotes “lateral growth,” leading to a wider and more congested plant. 

When rejuvenating a plant which shoots from the base, the idea is to thin out the congested shoots. This lets more light into the centre of the shrub, creates a better shape, and rids the plant of any problem growth.

Keep in mind that the end result should produce a shrub with a balanced shape that is less congested looking.

Start by

-          Removing any damaged or diseased stems, cutting to the base of the plant

-          Remove any stems which are crossing each other, or growing inwards (into the plant)

-          Remove weak growth

-          Remove a small amount of the oldest stems
Then - Shorten any long shoots which don't have side branches (laterals) by a third.

To finish
Sprinkle some slow release fertiliser around the base of the plant and mulch with some compost or bark chippings

You will need secateurs for thin stems, loppers, for thicker stems and a pruning saw for anything the loppers can’t deal with.

The illustration below shows the thinning out method. perfectly. The pruned shrub looks tidier and smaller, but in fact has lost no height at all. If you wish to reduce the height, then this can be done later in the year after the shrub has flowered.