August is an exciting time of year: warm days start to sneak in and many plants will be showing signs of breaking dormancy. It’s also a time when an important horticultural skill comes into play – pruning! Pruning is one of the most important tasks we undertake in shaping a garden, and there are few jobs that embody our connection and relationship with garden plants as closely as some judicious pruning.
For many trees, shrubs and perennials, August is the time to renovate, tip prune or cut hard, as the sap is just starting to rise.
Shrub roses in particular benefit greatly from a hard prune in late winter, and this is a job that many home gardeners can find intimidating. Rose pruning can seem complicated (and spiky!), but a good rule of thumb is to remove all but four or five strong branches to support the next year’s flowers.
Hydrangeas are also best pruned now, while the new buds are swelling but before they open. For an established hydrangea, prune away any thin, weak or dead stems, and then cut all remaining stems back by about two thirds.
Autumn-flowering salvias, such as Salvia leucantha, can also be cut back now, removing spent flowering stems as far back to the base to make room for fresh new growth.
One of the best gardening tips I ever got was from a gardener at an old estate in Katoomba, who told me: wait to prune your Prunus blossom trees (flowering cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) until they are in flower. This is typically around August/September depending where you are. Not only is it better for the tree’s health, but you can also easily see what branches are alive or dead, strong or weak, while still being able to easily see the branch structure. Plus, you can take a few flowering branches for a vase indoors!
The mark of a skilled tradesperson is how they treat their tools: make sure your pruners are clean and sharp before doing any pruning. It’s safer for you, and better for the plant to create a clean, easy cut.
Pruning can be daunting, but if you need more guidance, we offer one-on-one and group training sessions, on site in your garden, tailored to your skills and needs with a qualified and experienced horticulturalist. Get in touch with us to discuss your needs.