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A person with secateurs trimming a plant
Sharpen the secateurs! It’s time to give it an autumn trim.

To prune or not to prune

The secret to strong, healthy and productive plants is in the pruning, and a good trim can work wonders. Timing is important, though, especially if you live in a colder region, as you might have to delay pruning certain plants until frosts are finished. It's worth learning which plants are happy to have a haircut at this time of year and which should be left alone.

Seasonal pruning

“Autumn is a good time to prune summer-flowering plants,” says horticulturist Chloe Thomson of Bean There Dug That (@beantheredugthat). “Remove spent flowers and cut to shape growth.” Use this time to cut back hedges, tidy up shrubs and open up the canopy of some fruiting trees and plants, as well.

Not all plants benefit from an autumn chop, says horticulturist and landscape designer Lyndall Keating of Garden Society (gardensociety.com.au). “Certain plants require certain seasons for pruning,” she says. “Never prune when flower or fruit buds are forming, unless it’s to save the plant from a pest or disease attack.” But there’s some growth you should remove, regardless of season. “Prune dying or diseased branches, suckers and water shoots,” says Lyndall. Suckers appear around the base of grafted plants like citrus or stone fruit. Water shoots are vigorous, upright growths on the trunk or branches. “These often occur on eucalyptus and olive trees,” explains Lyndall. Also, remove any branches growing in the wrong direction.

A person holding a hedge trimmer next to a plant

What to tackle now:

Hedges

"Trimming a hedge now will encourage new growth to harden up before winter,” says Lyndall Keating. Don’t cut it back drastically – just a light trim to tidy and shape.

Shrubs and perennials

Remove spent blooms from summer-flowering perennials like agapanthus, hebe, lavender and roses. Avoid hard-pruning roses, as this will encourage shoots which can be damaged by winter frosts, but do tackle hydrangeas, only cutting back the stems that have flowered to a set of plump buds. Tip-prune grevillea, westringia and callistemon to keep them bushy.

Fruiting trees and canes

It's common to wait until winter to prune deciduous fruit trees like apple, pear and stone fruit. However, with established trees, you can prune in autumn once fruiting has finished. This reduces vigorous vegetative growth and allows plants to focus on flowering and fruiting in spring. “Always remove dead and diseased wood and any overlapping branches,” says Lyndall. “This encourages airflow, which helps reduce pests and diseases and increases the chances of pollination.” Follow up by removing young, excess growth on the main branches, but leave the spurs with flower buds.

Prune back summer-fruiting raspberries and hybrid blackberries once harvest is done. Cut canes that bore fruit this year down to ground level, but leave the new canes as they will fruit in the new season. Autumn raspberries can be cut back to ground level after fruiting has finished.

Top trimming tips

  • “Always use clean, sharp tools,” says Chloe. Otherwise, you risk leaving wounds that can be entry points for fungi or disease.
  • Use the right tool for the job. Secateurs are great for branches less than 2cm diameter. For thicker growth, use loppers or a pruning saw.
  • Prune just above a bud on the outside of a stem, to encourage new growth away from the plant’s centre. Angle the cut at 45° to prevent rot and fungal issues.
  • Sterilise tools between cuts. “Wipe the blades with a diluted bleach solution or rubbing alcohol so you don’t spread any diseases,” says Chloe.
  • Dispose of clippings in compost or green waste, but bin diseased material.

New to pruning?

Learn how to keep trees strong, healthy and looking tidy with our easy guide.

 

Photo Credit: Cyclone and Makita

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Health & Safety

Asbestos, lead-based paints and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber are health hazards you need to look out for when renovating older homes. These substances can easily be disturbed when renovating and exposure to them can cause a range of life-threatening diseases and conditions including cancer. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page.

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