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Purple-ConeflowerAfter a week’s holiday I strutted around the garden on Sunday like a horticultural Victor Meldrew. Having said that, the cries of “I don’t BELIEEEEVE IT!” were generally ones of happiness rather than exasperation and despair. Pots of crocus (the sublime ‘Zwanenburg Bronze’) that I thought had come up blind were flowering at full throttle, showing their deep gold and bronze faces to the spring sunshine. Broad beans on the allotment were flowering merrily too. “In early March!” I muttered…

Spring is in the air – with sap and temperatures rising it’s a great time to get outside and sweep away the last vestiges of winter. If you’ve left deciduous grasses and perennials un-shorn for some winter interest or out of wildlife-friendliness, time to cut them back is running out rapidly. It’s much easier to take a pair of shears to remove dead growth from a dormant clump than it is to cut back individual dead stems from among the fresh new shoots.

Miscanthus PerovskiaAll deciduous herbaceous perennials and grasses can be treated this way – if it held on to green leaves over the winter, step back! By ‘deciduous herbaceous’ I mean plants that die back completely like daylilies, echinaceas and grasses such as miscanthus. These can all be cut back pretty much to ground level.

Slightly woodier plants such as Russian sage and the ever-popular Verbena bonariensis, can be cut back hard now too, but leave a few inches of growth as they sprout a little higher than the others.

As an added bonus, these dry brittle prunings give great material for the compost heap – especially when mixed with the first mowings from the lawn. Composting them will also give any remaining hibernating insects the chance to escape, rather than being burned alive in a bonfire or sent off for a slow gentle roasting in the professional council-run composting schemes.

Butterfly-BushesWhen it comes to shrubs and climbers, there’s a simple rule to follow. If it flowers in spring, prune it in summer, and if it flowers in summer, prune it in winter or early spring. This goes for the vast majority of garden plants. So, if you’ve got buddleias, mallows or roses, get chopping ASAP. However, if you’ve got magnolias, flowering cherries or flowering currants, give the secateurs a rest and enjoy the flowers.

This rule works for clematis, too, as they fall into several distinct categories according to their flowering time. The early flowering ones like montana, armandii and alpina are pruned after flowering. The large-flowered, summer clematis should be pruned in late winter – there’s still time, at a push, to cut them back, if they’ve not yet started growing.

The old saying, ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ rings true time and time again in gardening. I’m off to sharpen my secateurs!

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