Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Wisteria pruning, ready for winter

I covered this topic a while ago, but I hadn't taken photos:  we all know that phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" and I should imagine there were some readers who were wishing that I had chosen photos rather than thousands of words on the subject!

So when I was asked to tidy up a Wisteria last week, I thought of you brave souls, ploughing through my thousands of words in the hopes of a) learning something or b) being mildly entertained, and I managed to pull out my phone and take a photo.

Here is what you might call "before":

Well, technically, "half done" as you might notice that on the right-hand side, there are clear signs that I have already been at work - yes, I was well into the job before I remembered that I had intended to take photos...

Anyway, generally speaking, this is the "before" picture: the Wisteria in question has had at least two runs of summer pruning, clipping off all those monstrous whippy green shoots that make the place look so untidy, and is still lightly covered with leaves, although they fall off at the slightest touch.

Summer pruning, as mentioned in the earlier entry, is not just to remove the wild growth and retrieve your gutters, it is also to promote the formation of flowering buds, rather than endless whippy growth.

Winter pruning is for neatness, and to ensure the flowers can be seen to their best advantage. It is also the time to assess the shape of the plant, and to make decisions about how you are going to manage it in the forthcoming year.

So, armed with secateurs, small steps, and my trusty long-reach pruning pole, I set to work.

The first job is always to sweep off as many loose leaves as you can reach: I use the pruning pole or a rake, and gently wipe it across as much of the plant as I can reach. That takes care of most of the loose leaves. If they don't come off easily, then it's too early! Leave it another couple of weeks and try again.

I always start at the bottom, which may seem wrong, but it means that it's easier for the debris to fall straight through the stems to the ground.

So, ground level: wipe off the leaves, gently tug off any stubborn stalks, then cut back all the newest, palest gray stems to just one or two buds. Don't forget to always make a clean, sloping cut, sloping away from the bud so that the rain, snow, dew etc slide off the stem. If any of the knobbly spurs are getting very congested, now is the time to thin them out.

Next stage: get up on the steps and do everything you can reach, then it's out with the long pole and repeat the process up to the top - although, as mentioned in the earlier post, it's not possible to be surgically precise with your sloping cuts when you can't even see what you are cutting....

Oh, at this point I should say that my professional insurance only covers me for working up to 1.5m off the ground, so I have to work on a set of low steps, or with a long-reach pole. You may prefer to lean a ladder against the wall and simply climb up and down it.

I would say, however, that I encourage all my "Senior" clients to make the decision to get a long-reach pole and lower the height of the Wisteria to the point where it can be managed from the ground, rather than risking life and limb clambering up ladders. Many of my clients are at that stage where they are looking to simplify their gardens, and reducing the height of a climber that requires regular pruning is quite a simple thing to do.

I know it sounds like a cowardly thing to suggest - but it has the huge advantage of bringing that aspect of their garden back under their control, rather than struggling to do it themselves, or having to pay a man with a ladder to come round and do it. And after all, what's the point of Wisteria blossom so high up that you can't see them clearly?

Anyway, once this is done, stand back and look at what you have left.

This is time to decide if it is becoming un-balanced, if one part is too thick, perhaps: or you might decide that you are sick and tired of brushing past a mass of wet leaves every time you walk up the path, or tired of being poked as you walk underneath an archway.

If any of these apply, get out your loppers, or pruning saw if necessary, and remove any branches that you no longer want.

In this case, the client and I agreed that it was getting too "proud" at ground level: that is, it was projecting out into the courtyard too far, and becoming a nuisance.  So we cut off all of the branches that were poking out at head height or lower, leaving all the sideways-growing ones.

When you have completed this phase, stand back again, and take another look: once you are happy with it, you can sweep up the mess, and there you go:

It has a sort of elegance of simplicity, doesn't it? And I assure you that I have been doing this to this particular Wisteria for over eight years now, and if flowers wonderfully every year.

In this particular case, it doesn't go much above the top of the picture, as the building is a low-eaved thatched cottage, and in earlier years we had a lot of problems with the whippy growth getting caught up in the thatch.

Now that we keep it to this height, it is much more manageable, which has proved to be a big relief to the client. Sometimes, in my job, it's important to give priority to the wants of the client, rather than the wants of the plant. 

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