Pruning Mistakes To Avoid In Your Garden

Pruning Mistakes To Avoid In Your Garden

Pruning is an essential gardening activity. Whether you have a small balcony garden or acres of rolling lawns, you’ll need to head out into the garden armed with your pruning shears at some point in the year.

When compared to other simpler gardening tasks, pruning can seem quite technical. And depending on the plant, it often is. This leads many gardeners to make a few easily avoidable mistakes that could end up damaging their plants long term. Many plants are incredibly resilient and will bounce back without trouble, but it’s far better to avoid these mistakes and get the process right the first time than deal with a greater issue later on.

The first mistake deals with the tools used. Whether you’re pruning your herbs or a massive hedge, your tools should always be two things – clean and sharp. Gardening tools can harbour bacteria or fungi from prior use that get transferred to your plants during your next pruning session. This is a surefire way to spread disease throughout your garden, so make sure your tools are always clean before you get going.

They should also be well sharpened. When you’re anxious to get out into the garden and spend time with your plants, it’s understandable that the last thing you want to do is spend your time sharpening tools. However, blunt tools only make the task of pruning more difficult. It requires more force from you to finish, especially when it comes to dense shrubs or trees, and it is likely to damage the plant stems or branches at the same time. This prevents healthy regrowth, which is often the goal of pruning in the first place.

With tools sharpened, you should be ready to get pruning, but you need to ensure you don’t do so at the wrong time. Different plants need to be pruned at different times and may require different levels of pruning throughout the year. In spring, a light trim to promote new growth is normally the go-to, while larger cutbacks are done in autumn. Understand the needs of the specific plant you’re dealing with before you get started. Take hydrangeas as an example – some hydrangeas form flower buds at the end of the season to prepare for flowering the following year. If you cut these buds off during an autumn prune, you will have no flowers next year.

When it comes to the level of pruning done, there is always the risk of pruning too much. Pruning essentially creates open wounds on your plants. They have the ability to heal and come back stronger, but this does take quite a bit of energy. If you prune too much while the plant is growing, it can become stressed and go into survival mode – not good for healthy growth. For other plants that can be cut down to the ground without trouble, this is not really a concern, as long as it’s done at the right time.

And finally, we have the mistake of pruning without a clear goal in mind. You should always have an idea of why you’re pruning before you start, to guide you as to when to prune, how much of the plant to prune, and the technique required to get it right. This will prevent you from making avoidable mistakes in the process or taking it that little bit too far and harming the plants you are trying to help. It doesn’t have to be a tedious or difficult process if you understand your intentions.

Anvil, Ratchet or Bypass? Tools For Pruning In The Garden

Anvil, Ratchet or Bypass? Tools For Pruning In The Garden

Choosing from the various pruning and cutting tools on the market depends on the work that needs doing in your garden. Smaller jobs, such as cutting back shrubs and thinning branches can be tackled using a small hand pruner. Larger pruning jobs, such as cutting through thick tree limbs, requires more sophisticated tools such as loppers or saws. The right tool can save stress on you wrist and allows you to make clean cuts that keep your plants healthy, rather than opening bark up to pests and diseases. However, in winter don’t prune everything in sight as different plants need pruning at different times of the year.

There are three basic types of pruners or loppers: anvil, ratchet and bypass which are differentiated by the type of blade.

  • Anvil pruners feature a single, straight blade that uses a splitting action to cut down on the stem.
  • Ratchet pruners are similar to anvil pruners but they have a mechanism that allows cutting in stages.
  • Bypass pruners act like a pair of scissors with two curved blades that make a clean cut.
A How To Pruning Guide for Different Plants

A How To Pruning Guide for Different Plants


Mostly these are pruned when they are in their dormant stage before leaf buds appear in spring. However, many spring and summer flowering shrubs set flower buds on the previous season’s new growth and will need to be pruned only after flowering in spring and summer.


As a general rule, roses are pruned in winter between mid-July and early August. In colder areas they can be pruned early, but in warmer, sub-tropical areas, later is best.


These should be pruned regularly throughout the year.


When diseased or damaged wood is seen, it should be removed immediately. Research carefully when specific fruit trees need pruning. Shaping is usually done in winter when the form of the branches can be clearly seen.

Pruning Hedges and Topiaries In Your Garden

Pruning Hedges and Topiaries In Your Garden

Late spring and early summer is when plant growth is most rapid and vigorous, which is why many hedges and topiaries require regular pruning at this time of year to maintain shape and form. The golden rule is to always cut off as little growth as possible with each successive shearing. This ensures dense, healthy growth and neat, clean cut shapes. Here are a few simple hints and tips to ensure that your hedges and topiaries are maintained in prime condition.

  • Select the correct plant types for your climatic and growing conditions.
  • Fast-growing plants achieve the desired effect in a short time, but continue to grow vigorously and require more clipping than slower-growing plants.
  • When plants with large leaves are clipped the leaves are sheared, which leaves the plant brown and unsightly immediately after cutting. Because of this, plants with smaller leaves generally make better box hedges.
  • Wait for soft new growth to harden before cutting.
  • Apply fertiliser and mulch to the plants immediately after pruning to maintain healthy growth.
  • Always use tools with sharp blades to prevent damage to the plants. Beware of power tools and handle them with due care, adhering to all safety instructions.
  • Begin cutting hedges by levelling the top. This can be done by eye or by using a line with a spirit level if necessary.
  • After the top has been cut, trim the sides. Again, a taut line may be necessary to ensure that the correct angle is maintained.
  • Hedges should be wide at the base and narrower at the top. This will ensure thick lush growth, as sunshine is able to reach most of the foliage. Bare patches are often the result of a lack of sunlight.
  • Rake or sweep up all the clippings after the task is complete. These can be added to the compost heap.
  • Slow-growing evergreens and some deciduous hedges may only need 1-2 clippings per annum. This is best done in late summer. Faster-growing plants in warmer climates may require 4-5 prunings.
How To Prune Your Plum Trees For Optimal Fruit Production

How To Prune Your Plum Trees For Optimal Fruit Production

Pruning is the most important winter task for your plum trees. Here’s how to do it properly to ensure optimal fruit production in summer.

Plums need to be pruned in July and August to ensure top-quality fruit is produced consistently each and every season. Many trees in home gardens are neglected and end up being an unproductive waste of time and space. But older trees can be resurrected with a severe winter pruning, cutting back hard to about 1m in height. However, it’s best to give your trees a good start in life. Plant out young trees of the latest and best cultivars to ensure top-quality fruit production, and focus on pruning correctly from the beginning. Follow these simple pruning instructions for the best results. After winter pruning, spray the dormant trees with lime sulphur. The tools you will need are sharp secateurs, long-handled loppers and a pruning saw. Make sure that all tools are sharp and in good order, and disinfect the tools after pruning each tree to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

What to do

  1. During late winter, prune back the central leader stem (a) at a height of 1.5m. Cut back laterals (b) by half to downward facing buds. Remove all lower branches below 50cm (c).
  2. In summer, after fruit has been harvested, remove part of the new season’s growth to thin out the body of the tree. Leave 15- 20cm of the new season’s growth on the tree.
  3. During subsequent winter seasons, prune back the main stem (d) by two thirds of the previous season’s growth. Continue with this practice annually.
  4. Continue to cut back each summer after fruiting has been completed. Remove the new season’s growth tips, retaining 15-20cm of the new wood. Prune out any weak or unproductive shoots
Pruning Made Easy

Pruning Made Easy

We prune to enhance growth, improve flower and fruit quality, to rid plants of diseased or broken growth, or simply to keep them neat and in check. Don’t prune anything and everything in winter, which some still regard as major pruning time. Many spring-, and summer-flowering deciduous shrubs set flower buds on the previous season’s new growth, so, if pruned in winter, you are literally cutting off the forthcoming flowering season’s potential blooms.

General pruning tips

    • Prune back any unwieldy or untidy growth tips with a pair of sharp secateurs to maintain a tidy growth habit.
    • Cut back fast-growing flowering shrubs immediately after flowering with a pair of short-handled lopping shears. Often they are best taken down to almost ground level.
    • Prune hedges and topiaries with a pair of sharp hedge shears. Topiaries should be trimmed lightly all year long to keep their pretty shapes, and the same goes for hedges too. The less volume that is removed at any one pruning session, the healthier it is for the plants. All hedges should be shaped so that the bottom is slightly wider than the top of the hedge as this allows the sun to get to the bottom, thus avoiding bare or dead patches at the base.
    • Regularly remove any suckers or unwanted lower branches on standard roses and trees at ground level with a curved pruning saw.
  • Often large, overgrown or stressed-out shrubs benefit from a severe pruning that takes them down to knee level. This seems to give such a plant a new lease on life. Don’t be afraid to carry out this procedure – most shrubs recover swiftly, developing into a lush plant.

Pruning ornamental trees

Dead or unwanted branches must be removed from the trunk of a tree with a sharp pruning saw. The recommended method is to make the first cut on the underside of the branch, about 10cm away from the main stem, cutting about halfway through the branch. Start the second cut on the upper side of the branch, a few millimetres further away from the main stem than the first cut. Saw through until the branch falls; this leaves behind a short stump. Cut this stump off close to the main stem, using a quick sawing motion. This triple cut method will ensure a hygienic and tidy pruning wound.

Pruning conifers

Winter is the correct time to give conifers a light pruning with a sharp pair of hedge shears. This encourages fresh new spring growth and maintains the neat, symmetrical shape of the plant. It also assists in keeping the conifers at more manageable sizes.

Pruning evergreen shrubs

Evergreen shrubs need to be pruned and maintained on a regular basis, and winter is often the most appropriate opportunity to undertake these tasks simply because there is free time available.


Hedge Trimming

Hedge Trimming

Get Pruning! Spring is around the corner, which means that now is the time to trim your hedges.

There are a few basic steps to stick to when trimming a hedge:

  • Ideally, trim hedges regularly, a little bit at a time – the less you remove at once the healthier it is for the plants.
  • Shape hedges so that the bottom is slightly wider than the top, so that sun is able to reach the bottom of the plants. This prevents bare patches and dead branches at the base.
  • Start pruning on the sides of the hedges, which are easier to keep straight than the top.
  • When trimming the top of the hedge, use builder’s line and pegs across the length of the hedge to keep your cuts straight – there’s nothing worse than a wavy hedge!
  • Prune regularly every four to six weeks during the growing season, removing as little new growth as possible, while still maintaining the required shape and dimensions.

Before you get started, check that your pruning tools are disinfected, clean, sharp, and designed for the specific task at hand. This minimises damage and bruising to pruned stems. While standard hand shears will do the job, an electric or battery operated hedge trimmer takes the sweat out of it and produces a very neat hedge in no time at all.

Fertilising and care
To promote healthy green foliage, feed the hedge every six weeks during the growing season with a fertiliser blend that is high in nitrogen. Water during prolonged periods of little or no rainfall.



Pruning with Confidence

Pruning with Confidence

Pruning, just like watering and feeding, is part and parcel of general plant care. It’s also easy, as long as you know why, when and how to do it.

Why prune?

1. To rejuvenate: Pruning encourages new, healthy growth, which naturally means more leaves, flowers and fruit.

2. To tame space eaters: Plants like bougainvilleas and other wild creepers need to be pruned to stop them from growing into gutters or over telephone and power cables.

3. For shape and damage control: Trees and large shrubs that have been damaged can be pruned to get them back into shape. Young trees need to be pruned regularly to maintain a straight main stem and to produce a neat crown, and the low side branches of overgrown shrubs can be cut away to allow space for other plants to be grown beneath them.

4. For pest and disease control: If there is a crisis situation of some sort, you can prune away dead and heavily infected growth – which should be burned or destroyed immediately. Opening up or decreasing the size of an affected plant makes it easier to treat the plant with a fungicide or insecticide, and betters the coverage of these control measures.

5. To allow in more light: Where a huge tree casts too much shade, corrective pruning by sawing off the lower branches and even removing some branches inside its canopy can be done. It is especially deciduous trees that are bare in winter and are pruned for this reason, as it is easy to see in which direction the branches have grown and which can be removed without damaging the natural shape or weakening the tree.

Is there a ‘main’ pruning season’?
Winter is deemed to be the main pruning season by many gardeners, but while it is the correct time for some plants, folks who simply cut back all their woody shrubs are doing their gardens a disservice. Winter is the correct time to prune certain plants that flower on new growth produced in spring and summer such as roses, but one must keep in mind that some flowering shrubs, like spiraeas, weigelas, hydrangeas, deutzias, philadelphus and viburnums, bloom on hardened wood from the previous growing season.

A year’s pruning in a nutshell
For practical reasons, we’ve divided a year’s pruning for popular garden plants into four quarters. Putting the job off for a month is not going to make a huge difference to most plants.

1st Quarter: January to March

  • Evergreen trees – remove low side branches.
  • Climbers – stop fast-growing climbers like Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and ornamental vine (Vitis coignetiae) from clogging gutters.
  • Pelargoniums – cut them back in early autumn and use the prunings for cuttings.
  • Evergreen hedges and shrubs – prune them all for neatness and shape in late summer, except those expected to flower or produce berries in autumn or winter like plumbago, tecoma and firethorns.
  • Fuchsias – cut back and use prunings to make cuttings.

2nd Quarter: April to June

  • Summer-flowering shrubs, climbers and perennials like bougainvilleas, cannas, heliconias, Michaelmas daisies, obedience plants, salvias, penstemons, yarrow (achillea) and chrysanthemums can be cut back or pruned in April.
  • Cut off dead palm fronds and remove summer-storm damaged branches from trees.
  • Prune plectranthus firmly back after flowering.
  • Cut back perennial summer herbs to dry the prunings for winter.

3rd Quarter: July to September

  • Deciduous fruit trees, blueberries and grape vines must be pruned in July. After pruning spray the dormant plants with lime sulphur. Prune peach trees only when already in blossom.
  • Variegated plants like coprosmas – remove any green growth that appears suddenly, or the whole plant will revert to green.
  • Tea and floribunda roses can be pruned from the end of July and into August. Get rid of dead, weak, or sick side branches and those rubbing against each other or crossing in the centre of the plant. If the form of the plant looks fine to you (it should have an open cup shape), simply prune the left over branches to about knee high.
  • Plants like poinsettias, plumbagos, tecomas, hypericums, heliotropes, solanums, canary creepers, golden showers and buddlejas can be pruned in September when they have stopped flowering.
  • Ribbon bushes, wild dagga and Cape mayflower (only after flowering) must be cut back to ankle level to renew.
  • Tidy up bamboos and nandinas by cutting out old stems and cleaning up at their bases.
  • Conifers grow actively in cooler months and can be lightly pruned to shape them neatly. Never cut into old wood, rather just shave off healthy foliage and growing tips with sharp secateurs or a hedge clipper – this will result in fresh growth.

4th Quarter: October to December

  • Frost-damaged parts must be removed to prevent a disease from getting a hold on weakened cells. This must only be done after all danger of late frost is over.
  • Clip off spent flowers and growth tips on azaleas.
  • Shape citrus trees by removing excess growth and misshapen branches.
  • By now, evergreens like buxus, durantas and syzygiums will sport lots of new growth, which allows you to prune them into different topiary shapes.
  • Prune shrubs and climbers like jasmines that have flowered in late winter and spring.
  • Prune back the side branches of hibiscus and tibouchinas to encourage lots of flowers in late summer and autumn.
  • Prune banksiae roses.
  • November is a good month for pruning proteas, pincushions, and leucadendrons, by removing all the old flowering stems and generally neatening the plants. Other fynbos plants, like confetti bushes and honey euryops, can also be pruned back.

How to prune?
Never try to prune without a plan. If you keep to the basic steps below you will save a lot of unnecessary cutting

  1. Get rid of dead, broken and diseased branches by cutting them back to a strong lateral branch. Ideally, this will result in a dense tree or shrub being thinned out sufficiently and not needing any further pruning.
  2. Next, the remaining side branches can be shortened to 2-3 buds or eyes, from which new growth will sprout.
  3. Keep the plant’s natural growth habit in mind while pruning, and stand back every now and again to check your work.
  4. Suckers sprouting at ground level or against the rootstock of a standard rose or grafted plant must be removed immediately.
  5. Use pruning tools that are disinfected, clean, sharp and designed for the specific task at hand.

Tool up with pruning tools
Quality cutting tools make light work of pruning. Buy the best quality you can afford, keep them sharpened, cleaned with disinfectant, and oil them before storing them.

Pruning shears: Pruning shears are only used to cut off small twigs (2-3cm thick), prune roses, take slips and cut flowers. There are many kinds available at prices that vary from dirt-cheap to very expensive. You will enjoy a lifetime of pleasure with top-quality shears, and you may even be able to approach the dealer for new spares or to sharpen the blades.

Branch cutter: A branch cutter has long handles and short parrot-beak blades for pruning away tree and shrub side-branches, and also reaching thicker side-branches of roses from a safe distance.

Hedge clippers: Hedge clippers have long, straight blades and are useful for soft hedging and making topiaries.

Bow saw or tree saw: This is the ideal tool for sawing off smaller tree branches. Heavy branches should rather be removed by a trained tree surgeon.

Safety glasses: Small pieces of plant material and even insects can land in your eyes while pruning, especially if you are working above your head, making safety glasses an important part of your pruning arsenal.

Garden gloves: Use thick gloves to protect your hands from getting blisters or against thorns.


Rose Care for August

Rose Care for August

  • Roses that weren’t pruned in July can still be pruned during the first week of August. In very cold areas, pruning only needs to be done at the end of August.
  • Roses that were pruned in July will be sprouting, and corrective pruning can be done. See which eyes have sprouted strongly and cut back to them. Competing stems may also be easier to see and be cut out.
  • Thrips was such a problem last season that the most important task is to drench newly sprouted roses with Koinor (2ml per litre), Confidor or Merit. These long-lasting insecticides protect against all sucking and chewing insects for about six months.
  • Black spot or mildew shouldn’t be a problem, except in coastal KwaZulu-Natal where the growth of the roses is more advanced. Alternate Rose Protector with Ludwig’s Insect Spray, Chronos and Spray Stay
    (our Cocktail 1).
  • As temperatures warm up, increase watering to twice a week. A long, deep watering that soaks down to the roots is best.
  • Roses that were not fertilised after pruning can be fertilised now with Vigorosa or the long-lasting Vigo-Longer, which is a controlled-release fertiliser that lasts the full season.
  • Re-stake standard roses using a strong treated (not with bitumen) wooden pole or a suitable metal stake. Never use a thin wire or similar material as ties because this will chafe the stem or grow into the bark. Rather use strips of shade cloth.

Climbing Roses – A Special Case
Climbing roses require attention in August. To open up space for new growth, older branches can be removed and the remaining stems, from the previous season, tied to a support, as horizontally as possible. Tying stems horizontally activates all the eyes along the stem, which then produce shoots and flower. The result is many more flowers than if the stems are left to grow upright, which results in flowers only at the end of a stem.

Good to Know

  • When tying stems to a support, don’t make the ties too tight because the stems get thicker during the season.
  • Stems can also be tied to other stems, and not just to the supports.
  • Once the main stems are tied in place, the side shoots on each stem can be reduced to about 10-20cm. By leaving a stub with 2-3 eyes, new growth will develop quickly and the best flowers will come from these shoots.
  • Once the main framework of canes is in place, don’t be reluctant to cut away unnecessary stems or side shoots.
  • Remove the leaves where possible.

Get the look
This garden is as pretty as a picture, the gardener having cleverly used roses to complement a mixed planting. Glowing ‘Salmon Sunsation’ and ‘White Sunsation’ roses are planted en masse among pink and white gaura with bold clumps of Margaret Roberts lavender and edged with a clipped hedge of golden Duranta ‘Sheena’s gold’. The urn, filled with pelargoniums, gaura and solanum in the same colour scheme, acts as the central focus. Other bedding roses that could be used to equal effect are ‘Tawny Profusion’, ‘Deloitte and Touche’, ‘Ice Sunsation’, ‘Granny’s Delight’, ‘Dawn Sunsation’ and ’Pink Profusion’.

by Ludwig Taschner