If you’ve visited the Olive Grove Oundle before or taken a look at our ornamental trees online, then you’ll know that we are home to a range of impressively pruned trees. Whether you’re after a horse, Eiffel Tower, teddy bear or t-rex – we’ve got trees in an array of designs. These works of art take a lot of skill to create but can be maintained with regular pruning.
While creating an ornamental design may be a bit too tricky, keeping a regular maintenance routine in place when it comes to pruning will ensure that your garden looks good year-round.
Today we’re starting with the basics of topiary (the art of training plants into stylised shapes) and pruning to help you maintain your trees and shrubs.
Plan before you make a cut
Firstly, check that you can undertake the work required. For example, are you capable of doing the work yourself? And is it safe to do so? You should also check that a Tree Preservation Order isn’t in place or that it’s not in a conservation area, as this could affect whether you can begin the work. If in doubt, contact your local council.
Before you begin cutting your tree or shrub, take a step back and look at where the plant needs pruning. Remember to take a look at it too, so that you don’t cut one side back drastically and not the other.
You try to work with the natural shape of the plant, as going against this can lead you to produce a result which looks unsightly.
Are there any damaged, diseased or dead branches? If so, they’ll need to come off too; as they not only look unsightly but could cause further issues to the plant in question. Take care to clean your tools with disinfectant to avoid the spread of disease to other plant areas if there is disease damage.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you can take away, but you can’t add. So, prune with caution and plan how much you need to take off in advance.
Trees that lose their leaves in winter (deciduous trees) are often pruned in autumn and winter, although in some cases summer pruning may be necessary for trees which grow quickly or require additional maintenance. Evergreen trees will not need pruning unless there are dead and diseased branches; in which case, you can remove these in late summer.
If you are cutting a plant stem, then cut just above the bud (about 0.5 cm higher) or side shoot on an outward-facing branch, this will help to avoid branches rubbing together. If you cut too close to a bud, then it could die off, and if you cut too far away then the stub could be at risk of rot or infection.
For larger branches, an undercut should be made approximately 30cm from the trunk, followed by an overcut to prevent the bark tearing. If you are removing the tree stub, follow the same procedure, and angle the cut so that a slope is created to angle rain off.
Take care to avoid removing the ‘leader’ (the highest growing point of the tree) as this allows the tree to develop naturally. You should also only prune around one-quarter of the trees leaf area in one year.
Smaller shrubs which flower on new wood require pruning annually, as this ensures that flowering is improved and can help to extend their life span. Larger shrubs do not require as much pruning unless they need unhealthy shoots removing. Shrubs should be pruned in spring, once the last frost has passed to avoid any damage to shoots.
Evergreen shrubs should have around one-third of older wood removed in total, with any diseased or dead shoots removed if required. If shoots are interfering with the appearance of the shrub then these can also be removed, but leave a stem rather than a stub. Once pruned, fertiliser or feeder can benefit the plant.
Formative hedge pruning can be carried out in winter or spring and is the process of tree shaping while it is young for the first few years after it has been planted. Maintenance trimming can be completed one or twice a year in either spring or summer.
To cut your hedge in a straight line; tie a piece of string from either side to act as a guide. Ensure that you regularly take a step back to assess your work and look at where needs additional pruning.
If you want to cut to a specific design, or shape the top of a hedge, it can be helpful to create a template of your desired shape from cardboard or a piece of wood. Place this on top of your hedge and move it along as you cut.
Depending on the size of your hedge you’ll want to use either hand-held shears or an electric trimmer. If using shears, the hedge should be parallel with the blades of the shears. If using an electric trimmer, the blades should be parallel to the hedge and you should work in a sweeping action from the bottom towards to top.