All about Autumn pruning
Autumn in the garden can be a dismal time. The food supply is dwindling, the lawn is soggy and when you gaze upon your domestic forest you’re faced with the full trifecta. There's summer overgrowth, a shaggy orchard and the resident maple dropping its leaves in the guttering.
Tree pruning is necessary to keep nature in check and ensure the garden is a safe place. Untamed or diseased trees will not only fail to flourish or bear good fruit, they can be a real health hazard to humans. Branches that are overgrown or weakened by disease can take an eye out or crush a person. Remember to be sensible and call in the experts if a tree pruning job is too big.
Cut don’t kill!
It’s vital that no diseases develop as a result of your tree pruning efforts. If your tree develops a disease it could die, which is devastating if it’s a fruit tree that has only just started to bear after years of nurturing. To minimise the chance of spreading infection and to ensure you give your tree the best shot at post-surgical recovery:
- Clean/sterilise equipment so you don’t transfer bacteria between plants
- Prune on an angle so water doesn’t pool in the cuts (use pruning paste if you wish)
- Prune on a dry day so cuts heal quickly
- Cut away all dead, dying and diseased wood
Don’t be shy about cutting back your dried out dead hydrangeas now: leaves, stalks and all. They will bounce back with new growth next spring.
Trim into shape sun-loving shrubs that prefer to hibernate over winter and won’t fancy their snooze being disturbed by a nasty haircut. This includes lavender and rosemary. Deadhead your roses but wait until winter before you do any pruning – any new growth will suffer in the winter cold. (However, if you live in the north and your climbing rose has exhibited runaway growth due to the hot wet summer, wait for flowering to finish and then you go for it!).
With all flowering trees and shrubs, remember to cut at least 2cm-3cm above new bud growth, in a downward direction away from the new bud.
The long, hot, wet summer means the Crewcut gardening team has been overwhelmed with demand for a garden tidy up service. Jasmine, wisteria and other climbers are running riot, canes sprawling over the deck, garden and into the vegetable patch. In a couple of months deciduous vine leaves will be falling too fast for you to sweep up, so now is a great time for pruning trees that should be thinned out.
Berry bushes – once finished, thin out to ensure bumper crops next season. Use secateurs to maintain control when you prune back tendrils to encourage fresh growth in spring. Remove spent branches, dead wood and unproductive ‘traffic’ clogging the main highways. When your stonefruit have finished bearing, it’s safe to pick up your loppers and start tree pruning. There are several things to consider before you start. First, the age of the tree – just like people, it’s best to shape trees from infancy. So, if you want to block the view of an ugly telephone pole, leave the central leader (trunk) and prune the lower branches.
Prefer a low, spreading lemon tree that’s easy to harvest for cocktails? Remove the central leader to encourage sideways spread. This will form the tree’s future shape. Remember – you want the tree to put its energy into producing fruit, not sustaining extraneous growth, so don’t be shy about pruning away branches that are crowding the party. Tree pruning is trickier with saplings, but you must try to envision the future shape of the tree and imagine what it will look like with branches full grown. You don’t want to cut off a branch at the base if it will leave an ugly gaping hole in the eventual shape of the tree.
There are some extraordinary hedges about at present – solid dark green boxes with metre-long pea green shoots waving wildly from the top. Crewcut has dedicated and experienced hedge trimmers but if you’re going to tackle these yourself, remember to put safety first. A stable ladder and preferably a second pair of hands to pass you equipment and keep the ladder steady. Check the underside of your ladder’s feet for the state of the grip – it may need new rubber shoes. Don’t overstretch, get down regularly to move the ladder or set up a trestle. If you’ve a super thick yew, you might be tempted to walk and cut at the same time but this will likely result in a sprained ankle.
Dead trees are deadly
Every winter, the country is subjected to increasingly violent weather events, resulting in loss of property and occasionally life. In January, a Rotorua woman died when a tree fell on her car and earlier this month in the Northeastern United States five people, aged six to 77, were killed by falling branches and trees during a two-day storm. Five people in one storm killed by trees!
We can’t stress enough the need to ensure the safety of your family, property and passing pedestrians and motorists. Make tree pruning a priority before winter. Take a good look at each tree and if in doubt, have an expert come and assess your property for anything that might pose a safety hazard should a big storm hit. It’s better to be safe than sorry so take it out or lop it off. Two children in the US were actually inside their homes when trees fell through the walls. Trees near the street and out on the berm should also be inspected for signs of rot and your local council notified if necessary. The hot, wet spells in summer that give us wonderful vegetable harvests have the flipside of fostering rot and disease. In the past, nature evolved together with the weather. Now, climate change has thrown it out of kilter and it’s struggling to establish its defences.
Finally, before you go outside, remember the first rule of tree pruning – safety first. Protect yourself against falls, cuts and eye injuries and call on your Crewcut team for advice or assistance any time.