‘Big January job’: Monty Don shares top tips on pruning – ‘patience is a great virtue’

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Monty Don, best known for his role on Gardeners’ World, regularly shares gardening tips and tricks online as well as on television.  In his latest blog post for January, Monty Don shared top tips on pruning fruit trees and soft fruit. He wrote: “This is always my big January job and if nothing else this is something I like to have finished by the end of the month.

“Try to understand how something grows before pruning. Does it flower on new or old wood? Does it grow new shoots in a great post flowering burst or do they steadily emerge over the season?

“Does a fruit tree need to achieve a certain maturity to create spurs that bear fruit or will they be produced in the first year of growth?

“Does the plant heal well or is it, like cherries and plums, a bleeder, and if so then does it produce less sap? If in doubt, don’t cut. Wait.

“You will never cause harm by not pruning and patience is a great virtue.”

Monty warned gardeners not to prune plums, apricots, peaches or cherries until late spring, and only if absolutely necessary.

When it comes to pruning apples and pears, the aim is to produce a tree that has plenty of light and air reaching the centre.

Monty explained: “Start by removing any crossing or rubbing branches.

“Cut back any overlong or straggly branches to a bug to promote vigorous multi-stemmed regrowth. Keep standing back and reviewing the shape so that it both looks handsome and retains a strong, open structure.

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“Always use very sharp secateurs, loppers and saws and never strain, always use an implement that is working well within its capacity.

“That way you retain control and risk least damage to the tree, and yourself.

“Traditional advice was to paint any large wounds made by pruning but current thinking is that it does more harm than good as it seals in moisture and disease. By far the best course is to leave a clean cut and let it heal over itself.”

For trained fruit, the expert recommended cutting back any weak growth in winter to encourage strong new shoots in spring.

These must then be pruned again in July to restrict growth.

Pruning soft fruit such as raspberries and gooseberries is another January job for Monty.

He wrote: “Cut back autumn fruiting raspberries to the ground, removing all of last year’s canes. Cut away all crossing and inward growing growth from red currants and gooseberries to create an open goblet shape.

“Reduce remaining growth by a third to create a strong framework of branches.

“I always take a few cuttings from the pruned material of gooseberries and redcurrants because they strike very easily and it means I can constantly add new, vigorous plants to replace the older ones.”

Each section should be cut at the top, at an angle and the bottom straight.

Cuttings can then be placed around the edge of a pot filled with a compost mix.

Monty added: “Water them and put them in a sheltered place. They will not need any extra heat or protection and will take a few months to show signs of growth, which will be the indication that roots have formed.

“They will be ready to pot into individual pots by mid summer and to plant out next winter.”

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