To recap:
• pruning stimulates growth;
• you want to be clear about your purpose before you start to prune;
• apical dominance plays a big role in how you prune and how the plant grows; and
• pruning can be harnessed to stimulate more flowering shoots.


We had an example of this thrust upon us on that very hard winter of 2010 when we had lots of snow. Because of our willingness to experiment with plants that aren’t supposed to be fully hardy in NE Scotland, we have had some successes and some losses. Each winter we put fleece around such plants, especially for the first few years of their lives.


By 2010 a Eucryphia which we had planted eight years before had reached a height of five meters. Eucryphia is an evergreen shrub. Those seen on the west coast look glossy, and in late summer are covered with creamy white flowers. Ours had grown tall but looked sparse. We could see stems in many areas. In 2010, it had flowered for the first time but had very few blossoms.


We were amazed to see it after the first snow had fallen. The whole plant was bent over in the shape of a hoop. It wasn’t the weight of the snow, as there wasn’t much at that point. Over the next few days it slowly righted itself. However, the following week with the next snowfall the same thing happened all over again. Given that it didn’t look robust, we figured that it wouldn’t survive.


Not only did it survive but every bud going up the main stem broke and grew a shoot, and that summer the whole plant was covered in leaves and flowers. The apical dominance had been well and truly broken. It has flowered magnificently every year since.
My point is that you can use apical dominance to decide how to prune and shape your plant.


With your purpose in mind (you will be picturing the overall shape you want) choose your bud, making sure it is alive. It should have some colour. A bud is a little arrow, pointing in the direction it will grow. If you are unsure of what you want, choose an outward pointing bud.


Make a cut with your nice sharp secateurs. Don’t cut through the bud. Aim for 5 – 10 mm above the node (the place on the stem where the bud emerges). You can cut at a slant or straight across. Don’t leave a long stub. The shoot above the bud will die back… dead material can attract fungi and bacteria so keep the stub short.


Regular pruning of deciduous shrubs maintains their vigour. If left unpruned over time they get congested and twiggy.
The timing of when you prune deciduous shrubs depends on whether they flower on new wood or last year’s wood. That is why you need to be able to distinguish between new and older wood. And by knowing the name of the plant, you can do a bit of research and get any instructions which are specific to your particular shrub.


If you can’t identify a shrub, just look out for older wood, which is generally thicker and has better developed bark.
Remove a few older stems from the middle of the shrub, right down low. Taking stems from the middle area allows more light and air to get in. You will improve photosynthesis and better air flow helps prevent disease. Also remove weaker growths, which tend to be thin or spindly.

By pruning annually new shoots are stimulated and the shrub will be continuously rejuvenated.
For future reference, take note of when each shrub flowers. Taking note of flowering times helps you track down their identity.
In order for a shrub to flower early in the current year, the flower buds will have had to have been formed in the previous year. The plant requires lots of time and energy to make them. Shrubs like these should be pruned soon after flowering, to stimulate the new growth. This will help the plant to repeat the cycle of forming flower buds before winter.


Take out some of the older wood, as previously described. Once finished, feed and mulch. They will then make new growth.
But shrubs that flower after midsummer, like fuchsias and buddleias, will be flowering on the new wood that has grown since spring and has then moved into flowering mode. These shrubs should be cut back hard in spring to stimulate new growth. Feed and mulch after pruning.
A hard pruning (oddly) stimulates more vigorous growth, whereas a light prune will stimulate a light response. So, if you have a lopsided shrub, you might be tempted to cut the vigorous side back hard. But doing so will only stimulate a vigorous response (think teenagers!). Prune those shoots lightly and the weaker ones harder. It will look odd for a while but should result in a better shape next year.
A completely different style of pruning called coppicing can stimulate brightly coloured bark in some dogwoods and some willows. Every spring they can be cut back to near ground level, creating a stool. Their first-year shoots are very bright but the colour fades by the next year so cut them down every year. Feed and mulch to keep them healthy.


A variation on coppicing which works better for willows than for dogwoods is called pollarding (pictured). To accomplish this, grow a single trunk to a convenient height and then take out the tip.


Allow all the side shoots near the top of the trunk to grow. Remove weak stems and those further down to maintain a clear trunk. Each year cut back the new shoots in early spring to just above the cut you made last year. Pruning pollards is easier on your back!
And those of you who like to propagate plants may choose the healthiest cut stems and prepare hardwood cuttings.
A combination of coppiced dogwoods and pollarded willows look nice together over winter. Add a few snowdrops and crocuses near the base.


This method is also used to produce large showy leaves in plants like eucalyptus or paulownia.
To prune fruit and roses you are best advised to find a book or website with good pictures. (It can be very easy on some plants but quite confusing for others. Pictures help!)
Knowing a few terms also helps.


The leader is the end of any shoot which grows in the direction the shoot is pointing. It won’t necessarily grow upright such as in the case of those branches that are horizontally trained, though left untrained their leader will begin to grow upwards.
Laterals are side shoots off the leader stem.


Spurs are short laterals with clusters of fruit buds. Stem buds are narrower than the fatter fruit buds.
Two other terms: you can do formative pruning in the first few years after planting. The purpose is to create a permanent shape or form. Do this mainly on deciduous shrubs and many trees. Once the framework is established, trees need little pruning.
Evergreen trees or shrubs tend to form a shape naturally, though they may need a bit of ‘tweaking’ (not a technical term!)
Maintenance pruning is the regular pruning done to keep shrubs and climbers in good condition and shape.


Finally, if you are moving a bare-rooted plant, the root/shoot ratio should be adjusted. Numerous small roots will likely have been cut. The plant will not be able to take up as much water. So, to relieve stress on the plant, cut off any damaged roots and then reduce the number of shoots. Cut some back hard. This results in more water for each remaining shoot, so you have fewer more vigorous shoots rather than a larger number with indifferent growth.