Pruning in July with Frances Tophill

Frances with pruned materials from wall-trained pear (West Dean Gardens)

In July, although the solstice has passed , it still feels like the summer is building up. Everything is growing so fast and temperatures can be really high. Rainfall is also often low at this time of year, which does mean that our gardens can begin to look like they’re tiring. We often think of a ‘June gap’, but there can also be a ‘July gap’. The early-summer flowers are fading and the late-summer ones are yet to come.

But that makes this an easy time of year to get out the secateurs, loppers and shears and give things a bit of a tidy-up. Unruly climbers and shrubs can be snipped back into shape and the high-summer prune can begin for those of us keen to get on. Evergreens can be shaped (after making sure there’s no resident wildlife), giving new growth plenty of time to get ready for the cold of winter.

Also – because summer pruning reduces growth rather than encourages it, as in the case of winter pruning – non-fruiting shoots can be removed from trained fruit such as pears. See my step-by-step project, below, where I explain how to prune a wall-trained cordon pear.

More pruning advice:


Plants to prune now

Midsummer is a good time for all of these jobs, but the month of July is ideal – the fresh new growth that follows from these cuts will have plenty of time to toughen up before the first frosts of winter arrive.

Wisteria

Prune off all the long, whippy stems from wisteria now, to about seven buds.

Prune off all the long, whippy stems now, to about seven buds. A harder prune follows in January or February.

Plums

Cut diseased, dead or dying stems from established plum trees back to a healthy bud

Cut diseased, dead or dying stems from established trees back to a healthy bud. Be aware you will probably remove some fruit.

Bay

If you keep your bay tree clipped, prune it now

If you keep your bay tree clipped, prune it now, cutting back to a bud facing in the direction you want it to grow. Dry the clippings for cooking.

Philadelphus

Prune Philadelphus straight after flowering

Prune straight after flowering. Remove up to a third of the stems at the base to allow light and air into the centre of the shrub.


Avoid pruning

Leave the stems of shrubs like Cornus alba ‘Atrosanguineus’ for a stunning winter display
Leave the stems of shrubs like Cornus alba ‘Atrosanguineus’ for a stunning winter display
  • Shrubby cornus: Cutting these back now will deprive you of lovely, colourful stems in the winter. Instead, do this in March.
  • Willow: Similar to cornus, pruning now will remove winter colour. You’ll also have no stems for planting whips in the dormant season.
  • Parrotia: As with all plants grown for their autumn colour, preserve the foliage for a vibrant display in just a few months.
  • Autumn raspberries: Not to be confused with summer-fruiting cultivars, which can be pruned back just after they have fruited. Confusing the two different types of raspberry plant could mean no autumn crop to eat.

Step-by-step: Pruning a wall-trained cordon pear

Fruit trees like apples and pears can put on lots of vigorous growth in summer, and this in turn can cause congestion, stopping the fruits from receiving enough sunlight, reducing air flow and diverting the plant’s energy into foliage. This is particularly a problem with trees that are trained into shapes like espaliers, fans or cordons, which can quickly lose their compact shape and become overcrowded, so it’s a good idea to give them their principal pruning in the summer, when the cuts you make will restrict, rather than encourage further growth. This is the opposite of bush forms, which usually receive their main cut in the winter.

Carts

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