NOW is an excellent time to prune apple or pear trees. The cut off point is the end of March before the buds burst into life for another season. Strike when we have some relatively settled weather and it’ll be one job done and dusted.

The type of pruning you use depends on whether the tree fruits on spurs. These are short, stout twigs that bear the fruit buds (they look like wrinkled twigs on closer inspection) or they fruit towards the tips of shoots made the previous summer.

If you’re in doubt look your variety up on the internet or in some of the many excellent gardening books on the subject. Failing that, a friendly local orchard owner

The first stage of winter pruning is the same for both fruiting types:

• Always use a pair of clean secateurs, loppers and a pruning saw

• Start by removing rubbing, weak, dead, diseased, damaged branches

• Keep the centre of the tree open by removing larger branches with a pruning saw. If several large branches need to be removed, spread the work over two or three winters. Very hard pruning encourages even more vigorous growth (which you want to ideally avoid)

• Reduce the height and spread of any branches that have grown too large by cutting them back to a vigorous lower branch

Spur-bearing varieties

• Shorten the previous year’s growth on each main branch by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs

• Cut back any young sideshoots (laterals) growing from the main framework to five or six buds if there is not enough space to allow them to grow as secondary branches

• Remove any badly-placed shoots

• On older trees, remove any spur clusters that have become overcrowded

Tip-bearing varieties

• Prune the previous year’s growth on each main branch and the most vigorous laterals (sideshoots) to the first strong bud. Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long

• Cut back a proportion of older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion.


Start gathering stems of beech, birch and hazel for staking top-heavy perennials in March-store outside in the open

Clean rain gutters out around sheds and greenhouses where leaves will have gathered over the past few months

Use algicides on wooden decking and stone surfaces to avoid them becoming slippery and unusable during the winter months

Check that any water pipes are either switched off or are adequately insulated against damage from any cold January nights

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