Cutbacks, cutbacks: It's time to cut loose with the pruning shears

 

And how am I going to reach that?" my neighbour guffaws. We are looking up at a stray tendril, hovering temptingly between the ground and first floor, just out of reach. The rain has made everything grow so ridiculously, fairy-tale-beanstalk-tall this year. Stems have grown long and wandering, leaves are plate-sized. Sometimes that's a good thing, but lately it can feel as though the main result has been an eye-watering quantity of pruning and weeding.

And so a joint work-group for our front gardens has taken at least two hours to remove just a fraction of the summer's growth so far. And led us to conclude that neither of us is tall enough to grab that last elusive tendril. A stepladder sinks into the moist soil and the fence is not really sturdy enough to climb on; so we just stand here and ponder.

This afternoon has been a lesson in summer pruning. First the buddleia, which looms large in August, blocking out light but still bearing a few purple cones. Most people don't prune buddleia properly, mainly because they are generally self-seeded weeds. But if you do prune, you'll get much more flower power per stem.

There's no need to be afraid – you really can cut this plant back fiercely. But not just yet. If the bush is too big right now, cut back the most inconvenient stems as soon as they've finished flowering. Then, in November, cut it all back by about half, and then in early spring (March-ish, before it warms up), take the whole bush back to 50cm stems. This can be hard work – buddleias often have big trunks after a few years. But it's worth the effort in thick flowers and much neater growth for next year.

Next we move on to the roses. Roses are more complicated, because there are specialised rules for different types. But a few rules apply to all: the first is taking out older stems that aren't flowering and shooting well. (Ascertain that now, even if you actually prune later.) Second, you need to cut near a bud. Really close, in fact, so that the plant can get on and grow afterwards.

Finally, pick the right time: our neighbourhood roses weren't pruned properly this year, so there are a few long, spindly stems which we are cutting now, but for the most part, roses should be cut back during the winter and spring after they have stopped growing. The main summer job is to neaten up the shape of the plant and remove those outsize stems and dead flowers. Job now done.

Finally, we come to a normally very pretty hydrangea, which should now be in flower. Unluckily for this cutie, it got chopped right at the wrong moment in 2012. Hydrangeas produce their flowers on stems which grew in the previous year, and this one got heavily cut back in spring by a gardener not apprised of that information. So, yes, chop off the previous year's flowerheads when spring comes, but don't cut the new green stems below or you risk a flowerless summer.

It might be concluded that even a light summer pruning is a complicated business. The rules for each plant can seem confusing and even contradictory. But do it once and the process seems to get engraved on your memory and is easier to summon up for next time. And though there are rules, it is OK once in a while to break them, especially when plants seem to have acquired magical pumpkin properties of growth.

And so I and my neighbour go on working – we just have to figure out how to snip that impossible floating shoot.

PRUNING FOR BEGINNERS

Keep it clean

Clean, sharp secateurs please, if only to avoid aching wrists. Wash in soapy water. Then, when dry, oil and sharpen. The Draper 76765 is a cool little gadget. £5.50, amazon.co.uk

Stamp duty

Look after the labels. There's nothing more irritating than spending 20 minutes trying to work out which clematis group your plant belongs to before you can chop it. Or write it down in an RHS Notebook. £9.10, amazon.co.uk

Ask the experts

The RHS website has extensive pruning advice for almost every plant under the sun. RHS members have additional help in the form of the Members' Advisory Service's experts, an email away. Membership: £38.25 annually, rhs.org.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

Year 3 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments