WITH many shrubs (as with all plants) there is a natural shelf life, writes TOM ATTWOOD. Some will go on for countless years and seasons looking terrific but with others there comes a time when you need to either enhance the ground conditions around them, possibly prune them in order to stimulate fresh growth or, in some instances, remove them completely and press the reset button. When it comes to improving the soil, which can make an enormous difference, it’s a case of adding organic matter, something that’s going to break down and release nutrients that are so important to all plants be they shrubs, trees or cottage garden plants. You can use pre-bagged or loose soil conditioner, homemade compost, mushroom compost or well rotted manure.

Handfuls of fertiliser is something often turned to as a remedy but if you can, use both fertiliser and a mulch as a twosome to get the best results. It’s not only about solving the situation with a chemical pick me up but developing and opening up the ground conditions (much of this is done by the naturally occurring soil organisms for you). Lightly forking over the soil immediately around the base of the shrub will not only open up the ground allowing better aeration, drainage and water movement but will improve the efficacy of the mulch and fertiliser you apply, getting it to the roots where it’ll be used to the full. Don’t be tempted to add handfuls of artificial fertilisers, it’s potent and the correct amount will often do great things in a relatively short space of time but equally, excess amounts can have the opposite effect. Late summer or early autumn and spring would be an ideal time to do this. If the plants you’re dealing with haven’t been touched for some time, then treating them now and in the new year would be recommended.

It would be somewhat foolish to give a blanket recommendation for pruning every shrub out there without knowing the particulars of the plant as there are many that would not appreciate an aggressive haircut at this time of year. Having said that, if the shrubs you have are the widely grown types such as forsythia, holly, laurel, dog rose or weigela then the likelihood is that many would tolerate (some) cutting back. Be conservative with your pruning if in doubt. Winter - although I’m slightly in denial about it - is not that far off and pruning less robust shrubs hard now could do more harm than good. If in doubt, hold off till next spring to be on the safe side but get started on the feeding routine above now as this will get things off to a great start in 2020.

Next week: intense coloured asters for late summer