Pruning And Training Climbing Plants

Displayed as they are against a wall for all to see, climbers and wall shrubs show the benefit of pruning and training more clearly than any other garden plants, so it is well worth while taking a little extra trouble over them. A great deal of mystery surrounds the whole business of pruning, but basically we do it for three main reasons: to get a good shape – and this applies particularly in the case of climbers – to encour- age the production of flowers or fruit, and to improve the health of a plant by letting in light and air to its centre – usually the case with wall shrubs. When shrubs become old, they may be given a new lease of life if some of the more ancient, woody branches are cut back to encourage new young growth from the base.

If you are doing more than a general tidying up of a climber or shrub, it is vital to know just how each plant behaves before you tackle it with the secateurs. The best basic rule to follow if you are not sure is, if in doubt, don’t prune. Foliage plants – that is, climbers that are grown mainly for cover, ivy (hedera) for instance, or the Virginia creeper (parthenocissus) can be cut back without doing muPruning And Training Climbing Plantsch damage. The general rule to follow with these is to cut back deciduous plants in late autumn or during the winter when the branches are bare and you can see the skeleton of the climber concerned, and tackle evergreens in the early spring before they start making fresh young growth but after sharp frosts and heavy weather that might damage newly cut stems.

The rest of the plants flower in one of two ways, and it is essential to know their habits before you tackle them. Most climbers and shrubs that flower in spring or early summer do so on growth that they made the previous year, and these should be pruned immediately after they have flowered. Forsythia and the winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) are two examples of these; another is kenia. The vast clematis family is a particularly tricky one to tackle since hali of them need pruning one way, half the other, but the clematis Montana group, the early flowerers, need pruning once they have finished producing blooms.

Climbers and shrubs that flower throughout the summer and into the autumn usually do so on newly made shoots which were started in the spring. The Jackmanii group of clematis flowers this way, and also the summer jasmine (Jasminum officinale). These should be pruned early in the spring before new growth starts. Herbaceous climbers like the passion flower (Passiflora caerulea) usually die down each year if they are grown out of doors, making fresh growth the following spring. It is a good idea, however, to leave the apparently dead stems in place throughout the winter, rather than cut them off, because if the weather has been mild, they may surprise you by producing fresh shoots on them when spring comes. If they do not, those stems can easily be removed where fresh growth appears from the base.

When you are pruning a plant use a pair of secateurs or, failing that, a very sharp knife for the job. Make a clean slanting cut across the stem just above a bud if you are trimming back an end, a similar cut on a side branch just where it joins the main stem. If you leave an ‘end’ of dead wood, by cutting some way from a bud or joint, for instance, this can become diseased and cause havoc in the plant. If you are making a considerable cut – say, on a mature shrub – then you should paint the stump with a proprietary sealant which will make the wound watertight and stop it from becoming infected.

Pruning And Training Climbing Plants 2

Roses are a special case: most of them need pruning in early spring, but climbing roses are the exception to the rule. They produce their best flowers on wood that is one or two years old, so they should be pruned in the autumn instead. To allow new growth to come through, cut back those stems that have bloomed for a second season. First take out any dead or broken branches, then start on the main skeleton, taking out what you need to encourage a good shape.

Wall fruits are pruned during late autumn and winter when they have finished fruiting and have lost their leaves. Most people over prune with disastrous results. It’s essential to know the difference between fruit buds and ‘wood’ buds, the ones that will form future branches. Fruit buds are plump and rounded like the fruit you hope you will get, wood buds are smaller, pointed and packed closer together along the branches. When you prune a fruit tree, never cut the wood buds back too far, always leave a minimum of four to five on a stem. Wall-trained trees, the fans, cordons and espaliers, need cutting back to encourage spurs or side-shoots on the main branches that will fruit. Last year’s branches off the main skeleton should be cut back to four or five buds. With an espalier, in order to encourage the formation of more tiers, cut the topmost section of the main stem, the part that projects above the topmost tier, back to half its length, which will encourage it to form two more side branches.

If your shrubs or climbers are damaged by frost during the winter, wait until all danger of frost is over in May, then cut back all damaged shoots to healthy growth.

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