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Cornucopia - Pruning Winter Flowering Shrubs

Pruning Winter Flowering Shrubs
Jan Vaughan

In the winter gloom and wet just one plant can light up the garden, but walking through the garden on a bright winter’s day it is often scent that heralds their presence. There is nothing better than the sweet, spicy scent of wintersweet with its little waxy cream and maroon flowers. A star turn for visual impact is my hamamelis, its golden flowers with their narrow twisted petals clustered along the bare branches making it a living sparkler. This year the flowers survived several days of heavy snow to emerge just as glorious as the snow melted.

However, once the flowers have faded, the plants themselves tend to fade from our thoughts. Most need very little pruning as they are slow growing, but they do benefit from feed and mulch in spring and it is a good time to look at the shape, and there are others that need a bit of judicious pruning.

Hamamelis and chimonanthus are both tidy shrubs, slow to mature and really need pruning only to maintain desired shape and size. Remove any dead wood, shorten untidy long growths and perhaps consider removing any particularly low branches to allow for underplanting.

Cornus mas, the Cornelian cherry, also needs only minimal care to keep an open shape. Overgrown specimens can be rejuvenated by cutting back to a framework of branches, cutting just above the new buds.

Daphnes are best left unpruned as they are very susceptible to die-back and various diseases.

There are a couple of thugs among this group of shrubs. One is the winter flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima. I have planted mine in the wrong place and may have to consider moving it as its new growth regularly makes it difficult to get to the greenhouse. It is an untidy shrub with vigorous new growth, but flowers on second-year wood so does require pruning in spring, cutting old and weak stems back to the base to encourage new growth. Prune all other shoots to shorten by about a third and maintain a balanced shape. Alternatively it can be hard pruned to a low framework.

I have included the corkscrew hazel, Corylus avellana 'Contorta', because it is most striking during winter when the twisted branches are revealed. It produces yellow catkins in late winter before the leaves emerge. The corkscrew branches are slow growing, but the extensive root system will sucker and may revert to strong straight growth spoiling the overall appearance. Any unwanted growth should be pruned to the ground.

Mahonias flower early, mine had finished flowering by Christmas this year. Mahonias can become large, but have a lovely architectural quality. Long stems can be shortened to a whorl of foliage or a side shoot after flowering, whilst old stems that have become bare at the base can be cut hard back.

Sarcococca confusa and S. hookeriana var. digyna (Christmas box or sweet box) are suckering shrubs. After flowering they need only light pruning to maintain shape, but in late winter it is necessary to remove suckers to avoid the plant colonising outside its allotted space. Don’t forget to pot up the suckers for a plant sale or swap!

First published in the Worcestershire Group Newsletter Spring 2013
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 33.
© Copyright for this article: Jan Vaughan

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2014. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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