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What to prune in January

Pruning apple tree
Not my most glamorous hour - pruning the old apple tree

It’s time to start the chop!

This is the first of a monthly series on what to prune and when, something that confuses even the most experienced of gardeners, believe me.

It’s not comprehensive but I hope it will act as a basic guide and there are links to my in-depth pages on the topics.

As January and February are the peak times for dormancy of most plants, this is the time to improve plant health and shape by pruning and you can happily leave most jobs until February. See how the weather goes.

Always make sure your tools (secateurs, loppers, pruning saws, shears) are sharp and clean.

Avoid cutting anything in the Prunus family (cherries, plums, etc), as they can get silver leaf disease.

Apples and pears

Start to prune apple and pear trees – at the very least, get rid of any branch that’s dead, damaged, diseased or rubbing on another one. Then spray your trees with winter wash or homemade garlic spray, which will kill insect eggs. Don’t overprune – this will encourage water shoots, which don’t bear fruit. For more on apple and pear tree pruning, click here.

Clematis Mme Julia Correvon still blooming at the end of October
Clematis Mme Julia Correvon still blooming at the end of October

Clematis (Groups 2 and 3)

Start to prune late summer-flowering clematis, or wait until next month. To keep your clematis small and to rejuvenate old plants, cut back hard to about a foot off the ground. if you want to keep them taller, just prune last year’s flowered shoots. For more on hardy climbers, click here.

Ivy fruit forming
Ivy fruit forming

Hardy climbers

Ornamental vines, ivy, Virginia creeper and Boston ivy can be cut back now – keep them away from windows, doors, gutters and roof tiles. Leave some ivy fruit for the birds.  For more on hardy climbers, click here.

Wisteria

I doubt many of us with small gardens will have a Wisteria, but they need to be pruned twice a year. The first cut is made now, cutting back whippy summer side-shoots to two or three buds.

Rose Leah Tutu
Rose Leah Tutu

Shrub roses

Prune rose bushes now, cutting back to just above a bud and remove any crossing or dead branches. For more on roses, click here.

George
George eating ribbon grass as fast as it grows in the pond

Ornamental grasses (deciduous)

Cut back the old foliage from ornamental grasses before growth begins – clip them with shears to within a few centimetres of the ground. For more on ornamental grasses, click here.

Snow on a frozen Rudbeckia Goldsturm stem
Snow on a frozen Rudbeckia Goldsturm stem

Herbaceous perennials

It used to be taught that herbaceous perennials should be cut back for winter but this removes protection from the crown and a home for beneficial insects. For more on this topic and exceptions, visit here.

Willows

Cut back damaged, diseased and the oldest stems of brightly coloured willows and thin overcrowded stems. For more on plants with ornamental stems, click here.

Blackcurrants
Great smell – ripening currants

Berries and currants

Start to prune blackcurrant bushes, gooseberries and redcurrants to create an airy and robust framework. For more on gooseberries, click here; on blackcurrants and redcurrants, visit here.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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