- Simon Edgington
We had an entertaining talk by Chris Bird in November who is a Lecturer in Horticulture at Sparsholt College.
The meeting was very well attended and at the outset we were faced with a bonfire of
branches and twigs ready for Chris to demonstrate the rights and wrongs of pruning.
His background comes from involvement with the National Trusts’ Plant Heritage, the Chelsea
Flower Show since 1998 winning 9 Gold medals in the process, Garden World at Beaulieu, and
Thompson Morgan. He also supports Maggie’s the home of cancer care.
Pruning is not dependant on the quantity of wood taken off but the quality of the prune which
may be to shape or to promote new growth. He stressed that it is important to do the pruning
in stages, often taking a step back to assess the progress and knowing when to stop can often
be an issue if some of the basic rules are not followed. Start with the DDDC principle. D-dead,
D-diseased, D-damaged, C-congested. Then proceed in a clockwise manner working round
the plant or tree. He stressed a random approach should be avoided and the old-fashioned
way of keeping the centre of the tree open, has proved to be no longer relevant.
With young tree growth, he suggests control by a light summer pruning, say from the second
week in July dependant on the weather. Then if you want further pruning in winter, wait until
the leaves fall off to get a better look at the canopy. Do not reduce by more than one third
unless you want to produce vigorous bushy growth.
He then proceeded to go into detail of how to prune. The cut should be close above the node
avoiding any die back and not angled as you need to minimise the surface area of the wound.
An angle of 10 to 20 degrees would suffice. Then you need to identify the new wood growth
which produces next years leaves and the previous year’s growth which produces the fruit.
Too vigorous a cut will stop any blossom and in the case of fruit trees the buds spiral in a cycle
of 5 if you are trying to direct growth.
Rose bush pruning timings got a specific mention as wind rock can cause weakened root
systems and the bushes should be cut in half by December with a final cut in March.
Old trees that had not been touched for years was also discussed. The temptation to prune
all in one go should be avoided as there is the danger of vigorous bush like growth creating
watershoots at the end of each branch. It was also recommended to keep the main branches
at least one foot apart. The old method of painting over the cuts to protect the branch has
also been proven to do more harm than good as the moisture build up beneath the paint
tends to rot the wood. Also, cavities that previously were recommended to be dug out now
should be left to fill with water.
A good tip for fruit trees and climbing roses to maximise the flowers and fruit is a procedure
called festooning. When a long growth of 6-8 feet is seen, bend it over and secure. Each bud
will produce strong growth and abundant blossom the following year.
Various clippers, sheers, saws with turbo blades and loppers were shown, with Felco being
the recommended clipper, - expensive but a purchase for life.
Chris finished with a discussion on the various apples that members had brought in. If you are
particularly fond of a variety growing in your garden but are moving house, he suggested the
process of regrafting to take it with you to the new garden.
A visit to Sparsholt College seems to be a good plan to continue our education.
Lastly he recommended the following reading matter.
The Apple Book Rosie Sanders; Pears Jim Arbury & Sally Pinhey;
Apples John Bultitude; Directory of Apple Cultivars Martin Crawford;
The Complete World Encyclopaedia of Apples Andrew Mikolajski