February 2023 — Monty Don

February Jobs


There are a number of pruning jobs that can be done in February if you live in the south of the UK but which can keep perfectly well into March if you live further north or you simply do not have time. 

Pruning Tips

Always use really sharp tools for pruning. Not only does it make life much easier but it also makes for much cleaner cuts and therefore causes less damage to the plant. Sharp tools are also much safer. 

Always use a tool that is operating within its capability. So never strain. Use loppers for stems too thick for easy cutting with secateurs and a sharp saw  (Japanese ones are superb) for anything that strains loppers. 

Never paint over pruning wounds as this seals in potential disease. Leave them to scar over naturally. 

Always cut back to something. Do not snip at random but make your cut just above a bud or a leaf or the joint of another stem.

Pruning Clematis

Late-flowering (Group Three) clematis can all be pruned hard from the middle of the month. When pruning clematis there is one really important consideration: when does it flower? 

The old rhyme “if it flowers before June do not prune” will get you out of most trouble but clematis can be subdivided into three flowering groups;

Group 1. early flowering (up to late May). includes C. montana, C. alpina, C. armandii, & C. macropetala. They tend to have many small flowers which are produced on growth made the previous summer. So if you prune now you will be cutting off all flower buds. You will not harm the plant but will radically reduce the quantity of flowers. Trim as necessary (ie to shape and size) in June. Garden shears are often the best tool for this.

Group II. Mid season flowering (Late May to early July). Tend to have much less vigorous growth and much larger flowers. Include ‘Niobe’, ‘Barbara Jackman’, Nelly Moser’, The President & H.F. Young’. These often flower twice, first on growth produced the previous year and again on new growth. The second flush is always of smaller flowers. 

If you prune hard at this time of year you will not have any early, large flowers but plenty in late summer. . The best bet is to remove all weak or straggly stems now as well as all growth above the top pair of healthy buds.

Group III Late flowering. (after mid June) Includes clematis jackmanii, C. viticella, ‘Gypsy Queen’, ‘Hagley Hybrid’, ‘Perle d’Azur’ and ‘Ville de Lyon’. All are multi-stemmed. They all flower on growth made in spring so all the previous year’s growth should be cleared away now. I always cut down to about 2ft from the ground, leaving at least two healthy pairs of buds. 

Pruning Roses

There is a lot of mystique about rose pruning, whereas the reality is that they are all tough shrubs that can take a mauling by anything from secateurs to a flail cutter and bounce back. However there are three considerations to bear in mind when pruning roses.

1. Hybrid teas, floribunda and Hybrid perpetuals. These flower on the current season’s wood. So they should be pruned hard each spring, removing all weak, damaged or crossing stems first and then pruning the remaining stems to form an open bowl of stubby branches. Don’t worry too much about outward sloping cuts but do always cut just above a bud. remember to cut the weakest growth hardest.

2. Shrub roses. These need very little pruning and a once-over with a hedge trimmer has proven to be very effective. I prune mine in winter and early spring by removing exceptionally long growth, damaged or crossing  branches and then leave alone. There is a strong case for doing this in late summer or early autumn. 

3. Climbing Roses.  This can be subdivided into two groups

a) True climbers – which tend to have single, large flowers covering the period from early summer right into autumn. These include ‘New Dawn’ ‘Albertine’ & ‘Dorothy Perkins’. These should be pruned in autumn  or winter, trying to maintain a framework of long stems trained laterally with side branches breaking from them. These side branches will carry the flowers on new growth produced in Spring. Ideally a third of the plant is removed each year – the oldest, woodiest stems -so that it is constantly renewing itself. 

b) Ramblers which have clusters of smaller flowers just once in mid summer. These include ‘Bobbie James’, ‘Rambling Rector,’ ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’ & ‘Wickwar’. These need little pruning but should be trained and trimmed immediately after flowering as the flowers are carried mostly on stems grown in late summer.

Prune Buddleias

If you live in the south or a sheltered area February is the best time to prune the Butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii, and it can be done any time in the coming month in colder areas. It produces its flowers on new growth so if it is cut back hard now, just before it begins growing, you will both stimulate extra new shoots and make sure that the shrub has as high a proportion of flower to wood as possible. 

If your buddleia is growing in the open it can  be cut back very hard indeed- leaving just two or three sets of new shoots from the base. If it is growing in a border it is better to cut back to two or three feet from the ground so that the new growth does not have to compete with surrounding herbaceous plants for light and air. 

If you cut the pruned stems into short lengths they can be placed as a bundle in a corner to make excellent cover for insects and small mammals and thus add to the wildlife in your garden.

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