How Much Do You Need to Prune in a Garden?

Many new gardeners feel a little overwhelmed with all the garden jobs on their lists. As a new gardener, working out what you have to do, and what you do not have to do can be a challenge.

Many common questions revolve around pruning. How often do you need to prune trees, shrubs etc…? Pruning is something that can confuse many new gardeners. And you may have to do far less of it than you might think.

There are two main schools of thought when it comes to pruning. Many traditional gardeners will tell you that many trees and shrubs must be pruned regularly, often annually, and sometimes even twice a year. There are of course specific ‘instructions’ on pruning for specific plants.

On the other side of the argument are those who believe that for a natural look and when taking a holistic approach, pruning is rarely, if ever, truly required for any but human reasons. Those who take their cue from nature argue that natural forests and woodland ecosystems do not require our intervention. And that we can manage our gardens along the same lines.

I fall somewhere between those two camps. I do prune many plants in my garden – especially fruit trees and shrubs in my forest garden. But I also take a far more natural and relaxed approach to pruning in wilder garden zones, letting the natural ecosystem evolve as it will. And I don’t deadhead all the flowers – especially roses – as I want to hips for wildlife and for us.

In natural, wild ecosystems, a natural equilibrium is reached. Larger ruminants traditionally play an important role in natural ‘pruning’. But in our gardens, these ruminants and other wildlife found in the wider natural environment are not always present. In such cases, we should, I believe, often take matters into our own hands. Of course, pruning can also be key in helping us make the most of the space available to us. And prevent plants from growing too large for the space in which they are grown.

Whether it is natural pruning, by wildlife, or the plants are pruned by us, it should be remembered that the primary reason for pruning should always be the health and well-being of the plants. We are simply fulfilling an ecosystem service that in other systems, other animals will provide.

Of course, the health of plants is also important to us, because it determines how productive (be it with food, flowers etc..) they are able to be. But pruning for aesthetic reasons, or just to keep things neat? Well, I’m afraid that is not something for which I have a lot of time.

Though I do prune for health and productivity, my garden is a definitely a little wild, and unruly. And that is the way I like it to be.

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