Last season was a great year for apples – make sure this year is by winter pruning your apple and pear trees – but only if it’s not windy or snowing!
If it is, just ‘window garden’ and brush up on the techniques here.
Winter pruning mainly applies to trees grown as standards or bushes to ensure a good crop the following season. The aim is to create an open goblet shape with a framework of about five main branches.
You also prune other types in summer but for different reasons.
Pruning should be carried out when the tree is dormant, early March at the latest.
You’ll need sharp secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw. Start by removing crossing, rubbing, weak, dead, diseased and damaged branches. If you do nothing else, this will improve your tree.
Keep the centre open by removing larger branches with a pruning saw. If a tree is neglected and several need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters.
Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too big by cutting them back to a vigorous lower branch (make sure this is at least one-third of the diameter of the branch being cut out).
From here, the next steps depend on whether the tree is a spur-bearer, tip-bearer, or partial tip bearer.
Most apples are tip-bearers, but look up your variety and find out which one it is. You’ll find more information on my website www.mandycanudigit.com on some of the common apples and pears.
Confusingly, it’s best to prune a partial tip-bearer like a spur-bearer (it has spurs as well).
Spur-bearing varieties: shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one-third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs.
Cut back any young laterals growing from the main framework to five or six buds.
On older trees, remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded.
Tip-bearing varieties: prune the previous year’s growth on each main branch and the most vigorous laterals to the first strong bud.
Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long. Cut back some older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion.
JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND
In the current cold snap, place floats on the surface of the pond to keep it from freezing over - this can be fatal for fish and pond life. To make a hole in frozen ponds, hold a saucepan of hot water on the surface until melted through. Do NOT crack the ice.
Douse fruit trees with winter wash - available from garden centres - which will kill insect eggs.
Mulch borders with leaf mould, compost, well-rotted manure, or even old gro-bags, at least two inches thick.
Plant lily bulbs in pots.
Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level so you can see the flowers. Watch out for hellebore leaf spot.
Start cutting back grasses that have been left for winter structure – the winds will have battered them by now.
During dry, mild spells, you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials.
Inspect stored tubers of dahlias and cannas. Too damp and they will rot, too dry and they will die.
Some pots outside under the eaves or balconies may need watering. Keep them moist (not too wet), and don’t let them dry out.
Plant bareroot deciduous hedging, trees and roses, staking before planting, so you don’t damage the rootball. Move deciduous trees and shrubs if they’re not too big, if the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.
Indoor forced bulbs for Christmas displays, which have finished flowering, can be left outside in a sheltered spot, to die down.
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For more on these topics, plus cook what you grow, traditional recipes, North East information, environmental news and more, log on to www.mandycanudigit.com (now smartphone friendly), www.sunderlandecho.com/gardening, follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on Facebook at Mandycanudigit