Garden plants to ‘never’ prune in autumn – ‘best time’ to prune

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Pruning involves selectively removing branches or old flowers from plants to balance the plant and let healthy, outward facing buds grow. Pruning can improve the appearance of your plants, promote healthy growth, and help with insect management. However, not all plants benefit from pruning in autumn.  

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Fiona Jenkins, gardening expert at MyJobQuote.co.uk, shared that while there are some garden plants that can benefit from some light pruning in autumn, there are others that should “never” be pruned.

Evergreen Azaleas

Evergreen Azaleas, a genus of rhododendron perennial flowering shrubs, bearing flowers from March to June (depending on the variety).

There are thousands of cultivars to choose from, with flower colours ranging from pinks and purples to reds, oranges and yellows. 

Fiona noted that azaleas should only ever be lightly pruned directly after flowering. She warned: “Any later and new shoots won’t have time to develop enough for buds to form. This means you’ll have little or no flowers next year.”

Jack Sutcliffe, Co-Founder of Power Sheds agreed with the gardening pro and shared that rhododendron too should not be pruned in autumn.

He said: “Rhododendrons can add colour to your garden all year round. In the spring time they bloom purple, pink and white flowers, but these only appear on old wood so it’s important not to never prune them in autumn. 

“If you do need to prune rhododendrons, the best time to do so is right after their blooms begin to fade in spring.”

Camellias 

With glossy, evergreen leaves and pretty flowers that appear in late winter or spring, camellias are an early season star of the garden. 

Flowers range from white and pink through to deep red, and come in many different forms including single, semi-double and peony. 

Fiona said that camellias are better left unpruned except for a little deadheading. Although gardeners can remove the odd shoot in spring, if needed. She said: “As Camellias form their new buds during autumn, it’s important not to prune them during this time otherwise they won’t be able to flower.”

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Magnolia

Magnolias produce large opulent flowers, usually in shades of pink or white, in spring or summer. In full bloom, the display can be truly breath-taking. They range in size from large trees to compact shrubs, so there are options to suit most gardens.

While it is acceptable to prune these plants occasionally, this gardening task should not be carried out in autumn. Fiona said: “Established magnolias should very rarely be pruned as it causes stress and thin water shoots to develop. 

“Magnolias are also prone to bleeding from pruning cuts, which leaves them weak and vulnerable to disease. Evergreen varieties may be pruned, if necessary, in spring. And deciduous spring-flowering varieties may be pruned in early summer.”

Hydrangeas 

Cutting back hydrangea plants is important because it can help promote healthy growth and maintain shape. However, don’t be tempted to prune them in autumn.

Fiona stated: “Hydrangeas should never be pruned in autumn. Mophead and lacecap varieties grow new buds on old stems, so autumn pruning will hinder next year’s flowering. As the plant retains moisture in its stems, new buds are susceptible to frost. Leaving old foliage and flowers on the plant helps to protect these tender buds. 

“Hydrangeas that grow buds on new shoots also need to be left until spring, so they have time to develop these shoots.”

Gardening expert, Nico, at Taskrabbit, agreed with never pruning hydrangeas in autumn. He said: “Many professionals, including myself, preach to not prune hydrangeas in autumn. The reason being is that spent flowers provide texture and interest in the garden in winter, they provide shelter to a host of critters and insects and protect the tender shoots from frost.”

Lilac 

Lilacs are an old-fashioned shrub that displays multiple large booms in white and purple. These colourful booms fade over time, only staying lush for about two weeks.

Fiona said: “You should take care when pruning lilac trees and bushes, as they’re another plant that grows new buds on old stems. Pruning lilacs during the autumn will prevent them from flowering the following year. And it will take them even longer to recover from any hard pruning. 

“Depending on the type you have, it should be lightly trimmed straight after flowering or while it’s fully dormant in winter.”

Jack agreed as he said: “Pruning them is important, but if gardeners wait until autumn, they will be removing old wood used for next year’s bloom. You should only prune lilac bushes if the plant is overgrown and showing signs of old age and wear.”

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