Summer is a bit like Christmas. You spend all year looking forward to it (well some do) but when it is over you just want to clear it all away and get back to normal. And here we are in autumn. I know it is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness but I am not a fan of autumn. Yes, it is the beginning of the gardening year but to me it has always meant big changes and not always good changes – I am always fearful of autumn and am quite glad when winter starts proper.
So I totally understand when gardeners get into the garden on a sunny day and want to cut things back, clear away and get the garden ready for winter. There is something about cleaning up the garden that seems good for the soul. Old garden books will tell you to cut down herbaceous plants, dig up tender perennials and get the garden winter-ready. More modern thoughts are to leave the garden alone, to provide refuge and food for wildlife. I take a middling approach with a leaning towards having a tidy up. It is easier to have a clean up now when the garden is not frozen and before bulbs start to send up shoots.
But what you should not do is go around the garden pruning shrubs. Autumn pruning is very common and I understand the desire to tidy the place up but in most cases it does not do much good. If you want to reduce the growth on roses and fast-growing shrubs to reduce winter storm damage then fine. But do not prune them back hard. At worst it will remove flower buds on spring-flowering shrubs and at best it may promote soft new growth on plants if we get a mild spell, to be damaged by later frosts.
We all know the rules: prune spring-flowering shrubs after flowering, prune late-flowering shrubs in spring and those tricky mid-summer-flowering shrubs (such as philadelphus – mock orange) get a renewal prune and light tidy up in midsummer, after flowering. Hedges usually get pruned in August unless they are the type that grows all the time in which case they need clipping several times a year.
I know it is hard to resist the temptation to trim ribes and forsythia but try – hard. Do it after flowering.
Not everyone gets it right. This week I was reading in a gardening mag; ‘Pruning the mock orange, which didn’t flower much this year, is the first job.’ Well guess what! It won’t flower much next year either!