Flowers, Gardening, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Planting

We all know that pruning is a very important task in your garden, but we’re often asked about pruning roses and other shrubs.

Rosa 'Iceberg' at the San Jose Heritage Rose GardenIf the shrub flowers on current year’s wood, then cut it back hard each winter. Buddleia is a good example – If you simply trim the plant it will become leggy and bare at the bottom. Cut each stem back from October onwards to within a foot from the ground and you will get vigorous, healthy growth in the new season.

If you have inherited an old shrub with little foliage on the lower half of the plant, take out the older branches thus leaving some newer ones to maintain health. Continue taking out the oldest branches each year and within two seasons you will have a new looking shrub.

There are some special cases, such as those roses in need of specialist pruning. Usually they are cut short – just above a bud which will grow into a new branch and consequently bear flowers.

Rosa 'Banzai 83' im Volksgarten in WienThere are lots of reasons for pruning shrubs. Unlike the rest of us, roses are not able to forecast the weather, and they take the mild weather as a trigger to put on new growth, and off they go doing what they do best – growing towards the sun.

Actually, roses are really glorified brambles, and if left alone they would soon become a tangled mess, impenetrable and thick – which might be good in a hedge, but not in the flower border. To keep them under control is the most important part of growing roses.

General rules for pruning roses:

  • Deadhead – and in the winter, go round pruning off the fruit that is rotting off on the plant. We all have them in our garden, and it is good to get rid before they cause infection.
  • Don’t leave a long piece of stem from a bud, it will only die and rot – cut as close to a bud as you can.
  • Always cut in a sloping direction away from the bud, so that any rain will actually run off the cut and not soak the bud – which can cause rotting.
  • Always take out branches that touch or threaten to touch another branch.
  • Always cut out dead wood back to good, healthy wood.
  • Do not leave your cuttings on the floor to rot, burn them and then compost the ashes – rose branches take ages to compost themselves.
  • Remember the goblet shape, and this goes for standard roses too, at the top of the central stem.
  • Always use good quality secateurs – so the cut is sharp and clean, ragged cuts provide a home for fungal infection.
  • Always disinfect your secateurs when you have finished a plant – I use a disinfectant baby wipe – you don’t need to pass infections from plant to plant.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Multicoloured RoseUnlike trees, a shrub can easily survive the lopping of its stems. Pruning stimulates growth and increases the vigour and productiveness of the plant.

To a plant, pruning is a stimulus. Although you have reduced its size by cutting it back, you stimulate the growth of buds on the plant that were once forced to be dormant by the dominance of the terminal bud.

Remove the bud and others below will start to grow resulting in a bushier plant.

What does pruning actually do?

Gardeners talk a lot of rot about pruning. They talk about all the plant’s energy being routed into certain directions and whereas this might be the end result, what is actually going on is the result of changes of hormone levels within the plant.

Large-sized, deep red Hybrid Tea roseEach bud, and the tip of each branch, as well as each flower, and in the roots too – as well as under the bark and deep in the branch, gives off a cocktail of hormones that determine how the plant will grow. If you remove a branch, the hormones produced by it are removed, and this has consequences for the rest of the plant.

So, if you cut the branch off just above a bud, the hormones from that branch that usually inhibit the bud from growing are suddenly removed, and the bud will start to grow!

Pruning can allow us to create a plant that will grow in a way we want it to, rather than how the plant might naturally wish to grow. And there are many advantages to this. You have to remember that a bud will grow in the direction it is pointing and therefore you can determine the overall shape of the plant.

For roses, one of the reasons for pruning is to cut down the amount of fungal problems by allowing the breeze to flow through the plant effectively. This is done by creating a plant that is goblet shaped.

When you are pruning you need to look. Which way is the bud you are cutting above pointing? if it is towards the inside of the plant, then choose another that points outwards.

Read part two – the practicalities of pruning.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Sometimes, because of life’s changes, work, poor health, family or whatever, you miss out on what you love. I have friends in the garden, and sometimes I ignore them. Well, actually, all the plants in the garden are my friends. I don’t care what they are, how common or exotic, I love them all the same.

And yes, I talk to them! Sometimes my best conversations are with plants, you see they always agree with me and we share a point of view. So you will understand that – apart from being quite mad, sometimes, when there are some old friends I simply have missed out on, I get rather melancholic.

Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit - see you next year old pal!
Gone but not forgotten, the white bluebells now bearing fruit – see you next year old pal!

I have found it difficult to physically walk to the end of the garden these past months. Down there in the hedge are to be found some white bluebells that make an appearance each year, and this year I only managed to see them once they had finished flowering and were literally past their best. A short walk away there is a wood, full of bluebells, and what a sight they are! But these little whites are solitary and special.

Now having plants as friends can cause you some problems. I have to confess loving weeds, and always feel a little guilty pulling them up. So Ii try and keep a space for them when I can. This year, so far, has been the year of the buttercup, and aren’t they beautiful?

Don't turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.
Don’t turn your nose up at buttercups, they are one of the most elegant plants in the garden.

So the edge of my lawn is punctuated with a stand of field buttercups, and if I lift my head, across the valley, I can see a whole field of them, and on a warm Sunday I can imagine myself in a huge hundred acre field of yellow.

There are times when old friends have mishaps. when we moved here there was a clematis in a pot, growing up a trellis. The pot was about 6 inch diameter, and the plant went up about 20 feet!

Clematis - you can't kill them, they just keep coming back - thankfully!
Clematis – you can’t kill them, they just keep coming back – thankfully!

During our first summer the trellis fell off and I had to remove the plant. The roots had gone through the bottom of the pot and disappeared under the paving of the patio.

We get lots of questions about clematis. You will find, on the internet, all kinds of methods about pruning them, none of which are actually correct. The truth is there are two groups for pruning this brilliant climber.

If it flowers in the Spring, such as C. montana, then don’t bother at all, just keep it trim as you need. All the rest cut back as short as you like on Valentine’s Day – call it a massacre if you will.

Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more
Yellow Flag: irises make a great display and in the autumn you can divide them and make more

Anyway, back to the old friend. I took a spade and cut the root at ground level and thought no more about it, until a few weeks ago when a hot day snooze found me waking to the sight of the old pal climbing the wall again.

I never have a better time than when talking to the iris. We have a strong bond, we two. I sometimes think I get more sense from them than anyone else in the household.

But this year they have a problem that needs fixing. It is the invasion of nettles. Nettles are hungry plants, beautiful in their own right – I love the geometry of the leaves, and the stings are so elegant when you look at them through a microscope.

But their heavy profusion means only one thing: the septic tank needs emptying, because there is a leakage. Nettles grow where there is a lot of nitrogen in the soil, you often see them in fields where cattle or sheep have gathered.

If it's archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!
If it’s archetecture you want, you would go a long way to better a nettle, but these ones spell trouble in the garden!

It has come at an opportune time, the iris need dividing and replanting and this I will do in the autumn, so that next year there will be even more of them for a summertime chat!

Now, I am blessed with an ancient hawthorne in the garden. I wish everyone would grow them just because of the aroma of the flowers. In case you are somewhat bemused by my having plants as ‘friends’ then spend a little time thinking about hawthorne.

It is said to be terrible bad luck to burn the wood, or cut the plant without asking permission and when in flower you are not supposed to sleep under its branches, or you will be pulled down into the underworld to meet Bottom and his pals. I can well believe it!

Can't wait for these white roses to burst into flower.
Can’t wait for these white roses to burst into flower.

During my recent poor health I have fallen asleep, when the rain has left me a warmer blanket, under the hawthorne many times, and never have I had a more relaxing, deeper sleep. Thankfully the underworld left me alone, I didn’t grow donkey ears nor thought myself enamored of an ass.

My last pal for now, though there are hundreds more, is about to make an appearance. A lovely white climbing rose makes an appearance for a few weeks, rain permitting. Growing within it is a honeysuckle and a rowan, which I think is forming the basis for the whole structure, and I keep it trim to the top of the hedge.

When the flowers appear you cannot but want to sit beside it watching the bumblebees buzz heavily around. And a hot day, when the nectar is more fermented than normal, they sit lazily on the flowers and you can stroke them.

You know, regardless of its size, the garden is about the best friend we humans have. Perhaps that’s why all of the creation stories set our origins in one.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, How To, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell

Mr Digwell’s Gardening Tips for February
snow
Snow!

Given the snow and rain we are all suffering from, one of the best things you can do in the garden in February is stay off the soil until it has dried off somewhat. I am always amazed at the amount of tidying up needed when the snow goes, it’s as though the garden has all kinds of secrets slowly revealed by the receding white. Once it all looked pristine and smart, and then nature sets in with her chaos and leaves the garden a scruffy mess.

So continuing with the odds and ends in the garden, like cleaning tools, and is a good move. My absolute favourite is smashing old ceramic pots to make drainage crocks, and this year I seem to have a multitude of weatherworn pots to bash with my hammer – but since I had to go to hospital to have a piece of pot removed from my eye, I always wrap them in an old sack before bashing commences. Continue Reading

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