THERE can be no doubt about it, pruning carried out the wrong way or at the wrong time can be the unkindest cuts of all.

But the truth of the matter is that unless you go crazy mad with the pruning saw there is very little to fear, except a misshape in the garden that will irritate — until the misplaced handiwork grows out.

An example of crazy mad is applying drastic pruning to trees that have never experienced it.

I had a friend over on Seaview Heights who retired and with time and a bowsaw on his hands decided to remove all the large boughs on his out-of-control mature apple tree — all in one go. Strangely enough, it died...

Isle of Wight County Press: Pruning surplus branches to create a goblet shape.

Pruning surplus branches to create a goblet shape.

Old, overgrown apple and pear trees can still be attractive and productive features in the garden if brought under control with pruning.

But renovating large old trees that have not been grafted onto dwarfing rootstock is a big, lengthy, task and is best carried out gradually over a few years in winter — when dormant — to give the tree a chance to recover from surgery.

When only light pruning is needed it should take place from November to mid-March to encourage fruiting.

Aim to create a goblet shape, with evenly spaced branches rising up from the trunk in a circle around a hollow centre. Cut off any shoots at the base and remove dead, diseased or crossing branches.

The aim of winter pruning is to encourage vigour so that fruit trees produce new growth and shrubs don’t crowd out their neighbours.

Grapevines ‘bleed’ sap when they’re pruned when not fully dormant, so don’t prune them any later than the end of this month. Cut outdoor vines back to arms, trained out from the main stem along support wires.

Other bleeders include acers, birches and figs and they should be done now too.

Isle of Wight County Press: Pruning surplus branches to create a goblet shape.

Pruning helps to encourage new growth.

Cut all the canes of autumn-fruiting raspberries down to within two inches of the ground.

This encourages them to send up fresh new stems that will bear fruit in the coming autumn.

But, don’t make the mistake of doing that to summer fruiting raspberry canes (floricanes).

They make their fruit on stems that are one year old, as opposed to autumn fruiting varieties (primocanes) that fruit on their new growth.

A summer fruiting raspberry cane only fruits once on each stem, so they should be cut down to ground level after harvesting.

Once you have removed the old canes, the remaining stems which began to grow that year will bear fruit the next year.

Blueberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries and redcurrants should be pruned in winter too.

Create a goblet shape by removing small amounts of old wood each year, leaving healthy young branches that will produce crops like my sumptuous blackcurrants that yielded sharp sorbets and a powerful Cassis.

With just a little effort at this time of year growing fruit can be both nice and naughty.

  • Conversely, pruning stone fruits should be left until mid-summer when the bleeding will seal wounds and prevent entry of silver leaf fungus.
  • Now is also the time to prune your roses, cut back Group Three late summer clematis to ground level and wisteria side branches to three or four buds.


  • Remove any faded flowers from your winter pansies to stop them setting seed.
  • Buy and start chitting seed potatoes by standing them sprouting end topside in seed trays.
  • Top-dress your chosen potato patch with manure or seaweed and cover with a tarpaulin, weed mat or old carpet to warm up the soil prior to planting. Here, on the Isle of Wight, we should be ready and frost-free come the middle of March. 
  • Keep harvesting your parsnips and leeks as you need them. It’s always a shame – and a waste – for them to sprout and turn to wood when the weather warms.
  • Order spring-planting bulbs and tubers or visit your local garden centre. Think about dedicating a bed to perennial vegetables such as asparagus, rhubarb and artichokes.
  • Plan your bedding layout now in preparation for buying garden ready plants, like begonias and fuchsias, for planting at the beginning of spring.