How to

How to prune anything

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Prune Rose

Plants are pruned to improve their shape, maintain good health and to encourage flowering and bushy growth. The question is, which plants should be pruned, and how much?

Winter is the best time to prune, as most plants are either dormant, or towards the end of their flowering season, with lots of leggy growth from last season’s display.

General tidy-up

What: Most trees and some shrubs that flower on previous or current year’s growth, but need little pruning such as Japanese maple, magnolia, lillypilly, rhododendron, callistemon (above), and fruit trees such as olive, mango, citrus and mulberry.
When: Late winter or early spring.
How: Remove dead, diseased and crossing branches as well as those that are growing in the wrong direction to maintain a good shape and a healthy framework.

Hydrangeas and cane shrubs

What: Shrubs that flower in mid- to late summer
or autumn on previous year’s growth, such as hydrangeas (above) and hibiscus. Also, shrubs that produce canes from their base such as abelia, weigela, may bush and philadelphus.
When: Winter.
How: Cut off old flower heads to the first flowering bud or pair of buds. On mature plants, cut back up to a third of the oldest branches to the base.

Bush and standard roses

What: Large- and cluster-flowering bush roses.
When: Mid-winter
How: Cut out all suckers below the graft. Remove older branches to create an open centre. Then cut off all dead, weak and twiggy material and any branches growing into the centre. Cut back remaining branches by a third, but leave the water shoots — these are long, soft, green, almost leafless stems. Standard roses are bush roses on long trunks. Prune the same way, above the graft.

To encourage ornamental growth:

What: Deciduous trees and shrubs that produce colourful winter stems, or ornamental foliage on new growth, such as Cornus alba, smoke bush (above), some eucalypts and elderberry.
When: Late winter to early spring.
How: Cut back stems to two or three buds from the base, or to a permanent framework. Prune suckering species to the base. Feed well to encourage growth.

Perennials and deciduous shrubs

What: Deciduous shrubs and herbaceous perennials that flower in mid- to late summer or autumn on the current season’s growth. Includes buddleja (above), some salvias, caryopteris, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, echinacea, rudbeckia, asters, dahlias and ornamental grasses.
When: Mid-winter to early spring.
How: Cut back all the stems to a low permanent framework. For perennials and subshrubs, prune back all the flowered stems close to the base.


What: Repeat-flowering climbing roses, and many climbers such as potato vine, bougainvillea (above) and some clematis.
When: Late winter, if flowers occur on current season’s growth. After flowering, if flowering occurs on the previous season’s growth.
How: Cut out dead or diseased wood. Remove a quarter of the stems — choose the oldest. Along each stem, cut back all side shoots to leave two or three buds. Gently tie the canes into a horizontal position.

Weeping standards

What: Roses and blossom trees such as mulberries (above).
When: Winter.
How: Select the oldest branches and cut them off at the point where they grow from the graft. Remove a quarter of the stems each year, choosing them so the remaining stems are evenly spaced around the standard. If the tips are resting on the ground, cut the ends off so they swing free.


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