Pruning in November with Frances Tophill

Frances pruning rambling roses at West Dean Gardens

By November the garden is well and truly into its dormant season. The days are short, though some of the sturdiest and most resilient short-day flowers like chrysanthemums may still be clinging on. You may also have the last of the autumn hips and berries on roses, rowans, hawthorns and blackthorns. And although these can all be pruned now, it’s best to wait for wildlife to finish off the fruits before you start.

This period of dormancy gives us gardeners licence to be bolder with our actions and to re-jig and tidy our gardens without too much fear of damaging most plants. We can dig things up, move them around and cut back most large shrubs and trees that need bringing into check a little. I would always recommend a little care with these big projects and consideration for hibernating wildlife.

If you can bear to delay until the end of winter, then do so. Some fruiting trees and shrubs can be tackled now, including blackcurrants, gooseberries and mulberries, but avoid pruning any Prunus, such as cherries and plums, to reduce the risk of silver leaf disease.

More pruning advice for autumn:


Plants to prune now:

While shrubs and trees are dormant, you can get started on winter pruning, especially on plants that bleed a lot of sap if pruned in late winter.

Acers

Acers don't take much pruning but it's best to do any maintenance while they're dormant

Acers bleed excessively if pruned in summer. They shouldn’t need much pruning, but if required, do it now while they’re dormant.

Blackcurrants

Prune out up to one-third of the oldest stems to encourage new shoots

Blackcurrants fruit best on young wood, so prune out up to one-third of the oldest stems to encourage new shoots.

Mulberries

Prune mulberries before January to avoid bleeding

Prune mulberries before January to avoid bleeding. With young trees, remove any branches on the lower part of the trunk, to lift the canopy.

Hazels, sweet chestnuts and willows

To coppice these, cut right back to a stump or thin out the stems by one-third to one-fifth

To coppice these, cut right back to a stump or thin out the stems by one-third to one-fifth.


Avoid pruning:

Prune Leyland cypress in spring and summer – it may need up to three cuts to control its vigour
Prune Leyland cypress in spring and summer – it may need up to three cuts to control its vigour
  • Leyland cypress hedges: If pruned during winter, evergreens such as Leyland cypress hedges can suffer ill health or even die. They should generally be pruned no later than September.
  • Lavender: Delicate Mediterranean and tender shrubs like lavender are susceptible to frost damage if pruned late in the year.
  • Prunus: Plums, cherries, apricots, peaches and even the seemingly indestructible blackthorn are vulnerable to silver leaf disease. This is more prevalent in winter and can enter via pruning cuts.
  • Shrub roses: Shrub roses are best pruned at the end of winter, although you can reduce their height a little now to avoid wind-rock.

Step-by-step: Pruning rambling roses

Cut back sideshoots of rambling roses to encourage branching, so you get more flowers next summer. West Dean Gardens.
Cut back sideshoots to encourage branching, so you get more flowers next summer

Although rambling roses can be pruned in late summer, after their show of flowers has finished, there are two reasons why it’s best to wait a little longer. Firstly, rosehips can be a valuable food source for birds – mistle thrushes, blackbirds and fieldfares all have strong enough beaks to handle them. Rosehips are full of goodness and useful to us too, for coughs and colds if cooked into a syrup.

The other reason is that if your rambler needs regenerative pruning, then the dormant season is the time to do it – between November and February.

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