Plants to prune now in December for ‘lots of new growth in the spring’

Carol Klein explains the importance of judicious pruning

December is a time when most plants are dormant, which means there may be fewer jobs to do around the garden – but iit’s actually the best time to prune certain plants before spring. 

Pruning is done to help control the size and shape of a plant and help maintain its health, but at this time of year, pruning will also help maximise growth and promote flowering so that your garden will look beautiful next spring. 

David Domoney, a top horticulturist and celebrity gardener known for being a presenter on Love Your Garden, has said that the “top job” gardeners should prioritise in December is pruning shrubs and hedges. 

On his blog, David explained: “It can be daunting looking at the tangled mass of stems. But the good news is, it’s quite easy to restore the shrub or hedge back to its former glory. 

“The main thing to remember is to be bold when cutting down the stems. Because this will send signals to the plant to send out lots of new growth in the spring. It’s called rejuvenating pruning.” 

How to prune shrubs 

Shrubs should be pruned at this time of year while the plant is dormant, but shrubs which flower early in the year in springtime should be left alone as there is a risk of cutting the flowers off. 

Plants which can be pruned now include rose bushes, witch hazel, winter jasmine, as well as deciduous varieties. 

To prune a shrub, you will need either a clean and sharp pruning saw, a pair of loppers or a pair of secateurs. If pruning a rose bush, you will also need gardening gloves. 

First, you will need to identify the oldest branches of the shrub, which should be darker brown and thicker than healthier branches. 

David wrote: “Other things to look for are the three D’s. These are dead, diseased, and dying. Finally, look for branches that are crossing with other branches as they are likely to rub their protective layer off and allow potential diseases to take hold.” 

Once a shrub has been pruned, it will need to be watered immediately and given a nutrient plant food. 

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How to prune hedges

Hedges should be pruned at least twice a year to prevent them from becoming overgrown, and December is the best time to prune them as it is easier to see the hedge branches when the plant is dormant. 

According to David, the tools you will need to prune depend on the type of hedge you own. He wrote: “Tall hedges will require the use of a safe ladder (tripod types are particularly suitable for this type of working at height job) and powered hedge cutters (either electric or cordless battery powered). 

“Small hedges can be pruned well with sharp-bladed hand shears and possibly a pruning saw.”

Hedges should be pruned in the midmorning or late afternoon on a day is weather is cool and dry in order to reduce the risk of disease. 

David wrote: “Start by cutting off the thickest branches first. If you live in an area where snow regularly falls, try to prune the hedge top into a rounded shape to minimise internal branch damage.

“If you’re using a powered hedge trimmer the best technique for achieving the right height and shape is to start at the base of the hedge. Then make large, sweeping cuts in an upwards direction before levelling off the top.”

Like with shrubs, a hedge will need to be watered and given a nutrient feed right after pruning. 

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