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Early Winter Pruning

Published on November 28th 2018
The leaves have fallen, and the summer sins are revealed; trees and shrubs have grown in wonky directions, outgrown the space we'd like to keep them, and some grafted trees have tried to revert to their original rootstock. The urge to get stuck in with the secateurs and pruning saw is pressing, especially after you've spent a good couple of weeks collecting up said leaves.

Pruning Preparation

On lovely, sunny winter days (I've got my fingers crossed they do happen) pruning is a task which I like doing, so on grey and wet days, I take a bit of time to prep my tools.
Run a sharpening tool over secateur blades and if needed, make a run to the hardware store and buy new ones - any excuse to go shopping but always with a reason; clean, sharp cuts keep plants healthy.
Remember to be careful and use the correct protective equipment.

What to prune

Most deciduous plants need to be pruned in winter just before their new growth emerges (January and February), however, there are a few that benefit from having a haircut now, which satisfies our urge to 'tidy'.


For the last few years, we've had mild winters, and I've left pruning buddleias until February when I've given them a hard prune, without worrying. Last winter I got caught out, and in one client's garden a large section of the tree came down, flattening plants in its path.
A close up of a flowering Buddleja davidii plant with green leaves and purple blooms

Butterfly Bush

Buddleja davidii

If there’s heavy snows, the accumulated weight can cause branches to break, damaging their surroundings and leaving wounds for diseases to enter. Cut back the top third of all branches in November or December to prevent this from happening.


Rose roots are quite shallow, and without the deep anchoring tap roots of larger shrubs and trees, they are at the mercy of winter winds. Rocking around causes the roots to become loose in the soil, creating a 'pocket' around the root ball which can collect water and eventually rot the roots.
Prune back flowering stems for all roses (apart from rambler types which need to be pruned in summer) by a third. Doing this takes out the growing point and stops them trying to repeat flower. It's also an excellent time to tie in the new growth of climbing varieties.


Like rose's, these flowering shrubs can suffer from wind rock but can be pruned back to ground level. This harsh prune helps to keep the plant from getting too leggy or scrawny and can extend its short lifespan.

Grape Vines

Regardless of whether you are formally training your vines, allowing them to scramble up over fences and buildings or growing them inside greenhouses or conservatories, late November to late December is the perfect time to prune to avoid sap loss.
A general rule of thumb is to cut back side branches to 2 buds from the main framework. There are different rules for newly planted vines, but that may well be another article!

Problems with pruning too late... Bleeders

There are a few plants which prepare early for spring by moving sap back up into the plant from January, enabling them to get a head start on the growing season. These 'bleed' a lot if you prune too late and can attract pests and diseases, so it's essential to get any reshaping done during December.
This knowledge can also be used to our benefit! Birch sap or birch water is frequently collected in early spring for its high vitamin and mineral content and added to alcoholic beverages or turned into very expensive syrup.
I've not had a go myself but come early February you may spot me lurking in the local wood, drilling boreholes and attaching collecting bottles (however, only with the landowner's permission!).
Hopefully, this will inspire you to get out into the garden and keep you busy. Remember to dispose of any diseased wood by either burning or taking it to your local recycling centre but shred up the thin pruning for your compost heap!

Are you pruning anything this week? Post a picture in the App and tag #winter #pruning #compost

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