What to prune in March: a garden design expert shares an exclusive spring pruning guide

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Making room for new growth is key to securing your summer garden, but with so much ready to prune, it can be hard to know where to start. Whether you’re growing shrubs, grasses, or a mix of vibrant flowers, the seasonal transition is the perfect time to give your plants some TLC. Express.co.uk spoke to award-winning garden designer Polly Wilkinson to find out exactly what you should be doing in your garden in March.

What to prune in March

While spring has arrived in the meteorological sense, the new season won’t officially take hold until the end of the month.

This three-week transition from winter to spring is the perfect time to prune plants before their flowering period, but where do you start?

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, multi-award winning garden designer Polly Wilkinson said: “There is so much to prune at this time of year.

“For those in colder regions, you might want to wait closer to April, but there is a long list of plants that can be pruned by early spring.”

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Deciduous ornamental grasses

Most of these tall, swaying grasses are left standing through the winter thanks to their long-lasting display, but by early March they may begin to wilt.

Old leaves and biscuit-colored stems should be cut off before new shoots emerge.

Miscanthus and Calamagrostis can be cut to the ground now to make room for new growth.

Simply scoop them up and chop them off at the base, but try not to cut any new green shoots if possible.

Lavender

This fragrant shrub is prized for its iconic colors and rich aroma, and now is the perfect time to give it some attention.

Give your established lavender plant a gentle pruning to eliminate stragglers and improve form, Polly said.

Horned

Cornus alba, sanguinea and salix willow can now be pruned hard to obtain colored stems for the winter.

Hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens can also be pruned relatively hard now

Prune back to half if you want to keep the existing shape, or to the lowest pair of buds – this is usually about 25-30cm above the ground.

Late summer shrubs

Now is the time to give late-blooming summer shrubs a vigorous pruning, Polly said.

Focus on fuchsias and buddlejas for fresh blooms and healthy, vibrant growth.

Polly said: “Use loppers and a pruning saw to cut the buddleja down to about 30m above the ground.

“If you want mossy, smoky blooms on your cotinus, don’t prune.

“But if you want nice fresh foliage, cut the stems hard at two or three buds from the base – if you want both, cut off a third of the stems – starting with the oldest.

herbaceous plants

Polly added: “Any herbaceous plants that were not cut in the fall to provide winter interest as seed can now be cut.”

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Common sizing mistakes you should try to avoid

Although pruning is a relatively simple process, it can negatively affect the growth of your plants if not done correctly.

Trimming too much, in the wrong place, or not trimming at all can damage your seasonal blooms – but how can you avoid them?

over pruning

As a general rule, unless it is a “hard” pruning shrub like Buddleja or Cornus, you should never prune more than a third of a plant at a time, no more than that and that can shock the plant,” says Polly.

Cut in the wrong place

Where you prune is also important. In most cases, you want to prune just above a node (where the leaf or bud emerges from the stem).

Polly added: “If you leave a lot of material above the knot you’ll end up with an unsightly stump of dead stem.”

Do not prune at all

While this one has an easy fix, knowing exactly when to prune your plants can be tricky.

Polly explained: “Some plants need to be pruned for best preservation, whether for shape, flowers, size or colour.

“Some Cornus produce the brightest stems of new growth – so if you don’t cut it you won’t get that splash of color in winter.

“Other plants can be rogue and take over, so pruning keeps them the right size and prevents them from becoming a congested mess.”

Top tips for spring pruning

Tools and techniques play a huge role in how well you prune, ultimately affecting the future of your plants.

Whether it’s shrubs, vines or trees, Polly has revealed her top tips to follow when pruning in early spring.

Clean and sharpen your equipment

Polly said: “Dull pruners will not give a clean cut, which will expose the plant to possible disease and take longer to heal than a good clean cut.

“Be sure to sanitize your tools to avoid spreading any disease from plant to plant.”

  • Use secateurs for small shrubs and climbing plants
  • Use pruners and a pruning saw for trees and large shrubs
  • Keep tools clean, sharp and well oiled
  • Make a list and attack each plant one by one – you have until April to complete them all
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