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Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

img 1713 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Well one the last part, we looked at the science behind making pruning cuts and best ways of pruning using secateurs and loppers, this week we shall look at using the power horse of hand tools, yes the pruning saw! So what is a pruning saw and how does it differ from say a carpentry saw? Well it’s a much stiffer blade that those types of saws and most of the time cut on the pull. Some can be folded up to fit into your pocket or a fixed blade. Pruning saws are used to prune anything bigger than 15mm and up to well as big as you can cut! A bit like using secateurs, theres no right or wrong ways but there’s always better ways to reduce damage or risks to the tree or plants. First thing is to get the sharpest pruning saw you can get with a sharp clean blade, over the years I have found Silky pruning saws the sharpest and even with these, I tend to change the blade every year so I am using the sharpest I can.

img 1730 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Now the angles of cut depending if the buds are alternate or oppersite are the same as for using secateurs on wood up to a couple of years old but they are a little more difficult to see in the older wood, almost looking for wrinkles in the Wood is almost a sign that buds are there hidden. That said in wood over 25mm thick, I prefer to do a straight cut across. The reasons are simple, the surface area on straight cuts are much smaller than cuts made at an angle, which means the plant has a smaller area to heal over. That even means on the junction of bigger branches. The pruning cut on these bigger branches to the main stem used to be done at an angle on the stem, the angle of the cut was always done just above the ridges or collar on the stem. It was thought these would heal quicker but it’s not really the case as the straight cut will heal a lot sooner.

Removing larger stems using a pruning saw is always best done in stages to reduce the chances of the branches tearing down the stem and causing a bigger damage for the plant to repair. Best way is to reduce the weight of the branch by either putting a cut on the underside of the branch to about a 1/5th of the width of the branch and at least 300mm from the trunk and then the main cut about 50mm above this. If you leave a bigger gap, the branch tends to trap itself in the bottom cut and doesn’t fall cleanly. The branch should snap cleanly off and fall down to the ground, then you finish off the cut neatly on the main stem . That cut is ideal for most pruning cuts. If there’s something underneath you that you don’t want the branch to drop off suddenly and hit, you can cut all the way though in one cut. This at times can cause a tear underneath the stems so I would make this cut at least 1000mm from the main stem in case the cut tears down. After this cut has been made and the branch had fallen down or been grabbed, the next cut needs to lighten the weight on the branch by cutting it down to 500mm before cutting the branch off at the main stem. All the cuts are pictured below

Last main pruning cut is removing stems from the base of shrubs and the key this here is to get the cuts as low as possible. Any stubs left will make the base of the plant look ugly and also mean next time you cut a stem out, you can’t get close to the base and it ends up even more snaggy

one other thing I don’t do is paint the cut area with wound paint. I prefer to let the wound heal naturally and found that the treatment tends to seal in the moisture and cause rot quicker

img 1720 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Picture of a clean drop pruning cut

img 1724 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1726 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

How it worked

img 1705 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Cutting straight through

img 1709 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1710 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

A straight though cut that shows the damage that it can cause

img 1703 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

The growing collar as described in text

img 1728 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1729 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Taking the stump back to the tree at the smallest point, if you had gone back harder, it will result in a larger wound and will take longer to heal

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Pruning cuts-how to get them right! Part 1.

img 0590 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

It’s the time of year we all start pruning the dormant summer and autumn flowering shrubs and trees and getting the pruning cuts can be crucial for some plants for so many reasons. First of all you have to remember that you are being a surgeon on the plant and you would hate to have someone cutting you up with a blunt tool so make sure the tool you are using is not only sharp (will be featuring a bit of sharpening soon) but clean as well, if in doubt, just spray it with so household cleaning product that kills 99.9% of all know germs dead! You know the one I mean.

img 1287 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

Now one thing to remember is that all plants don’t heal themselves but work to reduce the damaged area to stop fungi and other diseases entering the plant. The plant first of chemical process that reduces the risk of the wound becoming infected and then it callus over in time using callus cell in the stems of the plant. This all depends on the type of shrub or tree you are pruning. Some plants can have very thin bark with a thinner layer of callus cells that can mean the cut takes much longer to heal, roses and beech trees are good examples of this. There is a difference on age of the wood too, the younger twiggy wood doesn’t heal at the wound but near the next available bud. Again that something worth remembering for in a bit.

For this next bit, I am focusing on using secateurs and loppers and will do a bit of using saws later.

img 1613 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

First thing to look for is whether the buds are opposite each other or alternate (see pictures) this does change the angle of the cut. With plants that buds are opposite, its best to cut level just top of the buds so basically you don’t damage them. The plant will boast either one or both these buds into life in the spring. Now with alternate buds, you are looking at taking a sloping cut away just above the bud and angled so the bud is at the top of the slope. Some people think that you do that to allow the water to drain away but that’s not the main reason why, it’s done like that so the plant pushes the sap into that bud and allows that bud to break. The cut should be ideally no more than 10mm above the bud as any more above it can result in die back and the stem dying back past that next bud and down to the next, leaving more dead wood in the plant to attract in diseases. One thing to remember though, no one can get it right all the time, not even us professionals, the idea is to aim to get it right most times and try and achieve at least 80% good cuts. Hopefully the pictures below will explain a bit more.

img 1578 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

A rose has alternative buds, as you can see there’s no bud opposite

img 1579 1 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

While this Hydrangea has its buds opposite each other

img 1594 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

When pruning plants with opposite buds, you aim for a level cut just above the top of the bud

img 0586 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

This picture shows the dieback from poorly angled cuts for a rose that has alternate buds. notice the church window of doom and also the damage down into the next bud at times

img 0590 Pruning cuts how to get them right! Part 1.

The alternate bud cut at the right angle with the blue lines showing what is happening to the sap and how it pushes it towards the bud to encourage that one to break.

Well that’s the end of the first part, next time we shall look at using a pruning saw and how to make the bigger cuts with that.

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Cutting back Hellebores

015 Cutting back Hellebores

As we head towards Christmas, one of my last jobs I like to do in the garden is remove the leaves on helleborus orientalis and H. x hybridus type hybrids. These are the hellebores that shoot up the flower buds from the base of the plant while others like H.niger, H.argufolius, H x sternii etc all bear the flowers on the leave stems and these should be cut back when they have finished flowering. Helleborus orientalis are also know as Christmas roses as they start flowering roundabout Christmas time and carry on to March. Cutting back the Hellebores helps to show the flowers off much better then they bloom, on some forms, the flowers can be hidden from view by the leaves and again it makes them visible. Another advantage of pruning them back now is removing the old leaves reduces the chances of the new foliage getting hellebore leaf spot (Microsphaeropsis hellebori).

Here’s my step by step guide

img 1406 1 Cutting back Hellebores

1)A group of Hellebores ready to cut back

img 1408 Cutting back Hellebores

2) pull back the leaves to show the crown of the plant

img 1429 1 Cutting back Hellebores

3) the red circled bits are the flower buds coming up, these are the ones you want to avoid cutting with the secateurs.

img 1409 Cutting back Hellebores

4) now carefully start cutting down the stems as close to the ground as you can

img 1418 2 Cutting back Hellebores

5) I find it best to clear any old stems and leaves out from the crown of the plant as I am cutting back as it makes it clearer to see what I am cutting back and avoiding the buds

img 1425 2 Cutting back Hellebores

6) the finished clump!

015 1 Cutting back Hellebores

6) and in flower!

It’s a nice and easy job to do and one perfect for this weekend!

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Plant of the week- Hydrangea paniculata ‘Floribunda’ 

hydrangea paniculata florbunda 3 Plant of the week  Hydrangea paniculata Floribunda 

hydrangea paniculata florbunda 2 Plant of the week  Hydrangea paniculata Floribunda 
Late summer and early autumn is the time for these beautiful shrubs when they delight us this displays of whites and pinks, indeed some forms fade from white into pinks as the season draws on. Hydrangea paniculata is a Medium to large shrub, native to the far eastern countries of Japan, China and Taiwan and was introduced into cultivation in 1861. The form ‘Floribunda’ is a great cultivar, first cultivated in 1867. This cultivar has great long panicles that are a little more narrow than other forms, but really come into their best around now. Like all hydrangea, the skeletons hold on the plant right up to the spring and can be enjoyed with light sprinkling of frost 

hydrangea paniculata florbunda 3 Plant of the week  Hydrangea paniculata Floribunda 
It is pretty easy to grow, it can be grown in most soils as long it’s is a good fertile soil that holds a little bit of moisture. Like all hydrangeas they like a shady spot in the garden to get the best out of them.

Looking after them is pretty easy, to keep their size down a little, they can be pruned in February by reducing the last years growth down to about 5 buds, this will give you a couple of buds spare if we did a late frost, which can damage the delicate young shoots. After pruning, a feed of vitax Q4 and a mulch of compost is all they need.

This form is pretty wide spread and can be found in great gardens, Ines like RHS Wisley and Sir Harold Hillier Gardens. It is also widely available from most nurseries 

hydrangea paniculata florbunda Plant of the week  Hydrangea paniculata Floribunda 

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Hedge trimming tips 

20151013 131734487 ios Hedge trimming tips 

Well it's the time of the year when all you can hear is the roar of petrol hedgecutters  or the buzz buzz of the electric hedge cutters echoing around the neighbourhood. Indeed now is an ideal time to tidy up your hedges, most of the birds would of finished nesting (apart from pigeons!) and the plants themselves have finished their main growth spurt for the year and if trimmed now, will delightfully hold their shape and form until they start growing away next spring, giving our gardens both shape and structure during the shortened days of winter, after all the herbecous plants have died down and the deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves

Now this isn't a step by step guide but just a few little things that I do and have found, that makes the job a little easier and safer

Check the hedge out first.

We all walk by the hedges at all times don't we and the chances are you have cut the hedge before. But a lot of things can happen in a year, just have a look though the hedge checking for bottles, cans, odd bits of metal thrown in, footballs etc anything that could damage the blades of the cutters. Also see if there's any new holes or dips appeared in the ground near the hedge, may save a twisted ankle once the dip is covered up in clippings and you find it again! Lastly get a big stick (take handle will do) and smack it along the hedge, this isn't an old fashioned gardners tradition to produce a good crop next year but a way to check there are no birds nesting or even worse no wasp nests in there! Nothing worse that being surrounded by pesky 'flies' up a stepladder and finding out there are wasps!

Sharpen the blades. 

No matter what hedge cutter you use, whether it's electric, battery or petrol, it will always cut much better and easier with sharp blades and leave a much cleaner finish to the hedge. If you don't want to do it yourself, most garden machinery dealers will do it for you, for a small cost. Otherwise you can easily do it for yourself using a diamond file like the ones sold by Niwaki. Once your blades are nice and sharp, do the fine hedges like Yew, Box first before moving on the rougher stuff like hawthorn, beech, holly etc. The finer stuff do need sharper blades and done first they will avoid the dulling that happens with time and when doing the rougher hedges

Where to start?

First of work out the way you like to work, my natural working way is left to right, so I will start on the left hand side. I then cut from bottom to top, this helps to allow foliage to fall down once it's been cut unheeded and not pulling any other bits out with its weight. If there's rather a lot of foliage to get though, will do a rough cut first to remove the bulk before doing a finer one to finish. Once the side is done, I then start of the top, on the right hand side or just where I have finished doing the side. Then I cut the closest bit to me, working my way across, sweeping the clippings off the edge as I go.

Cut close!

When cutting an old established hedge, one that I have trimmed before or one cut last year, I always try and cut as close to the last years cut as possible, ideally to within a couple of mm of those last cuts, yes it may leave the hedge looking a little barer than a lighter trim but it will help to keep the hedge tighter and more compact within the space, think about it, leaving 10mm new growth on each side every year for the new ten years will make the hedge 200mm wider, 50mm would be 1000m or a metre! 2mm would just 40mm. Big big differences. img 0440 Hedge trimming tips 

large leaved shrubs  These are shrubs like Bay, cherry Laurel, tradionally are done by hand using secatuers as the use of hedge cutters tend to tear the leaves, cutting by hand is pretty time comsuing and lets be honest, we dont all have the time to do it by hand. using the hedge cutters will leave the leafs ragged but the new ones will soon come though ok. only word of warning when using a hedge cutter on cherry laurel, the leaves do contain amount of  cyanide, which on a hot day can cause a bad headache or feeling sick, indeed there have been cases of gardeners being sacked from being drunk, when indeed it was cyanide poisoning from the fumes from the laurel leaves when being cut on a very hot day.

img 0424 1 Hedge trimming tips 

Use the right access equipment.
It so much easy to get hold of access equipment now, either though hiring or buying. I am lucky, being a professional gardener, I own a couple sets of tripod ladders, a 20ft access tower and a stepping stool, all of which cover any height needs I have. It's not worth the risk of leaning a ladder into the hedge or grabbing the patio chair and doing a little balancing dance whilst standing on it. Hedge cutters are pretty horrid things to fall on and they do hurt! Just try and find the right bit of gear to suit your garden and either make a long term investment or hire in. One other thing is getting your cutters up to your working height, when working on step ladders, platforms etc, you ideally need 3 points of contact from your body to the equipment, again makes carrying anything up the equipment a little iffy. I have a couple of lengths of rope with a couple of karabiners tied to each end, I attach one to the tool and hold the other one whilst climbing up and then attach it to the ladder, platform when I get to the working height and just pull up the tool, un hitch, use and lower back down when finished .


Clean off my tools.

End of each day, I will brush off any loose leaves, give the blades an oil, that will help to soften any sap build up on the blades, then remove the build up using the crean block or a wooden scraper, spray with Dettol to kill off 99.5% of all know germs or indeed fungus like box blight and plant virus and then spray once more with WD-40. I then know the equipment is as clean and disease free as I can make it.

Look back.  

its always worth taking a step backwards to make sure the hedge is pretty level and the sides are pretty level, theres no bit missed and its all looking good. its also a damn fine time to admire your handy work!sdc10017 Hedge trimming tips 

I hope you have found the above tips useful and happy hedge cutting

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Pruning once flowering rambling roses

img 2858 Pruning once flowering rambling roses

Pruning roses always seem to have a mist of confusion around them, no matter where I go, who I talk too or indeed listen too, roses are one plant that leaves them confused when it comes to pruning. What to prune, when to prune, taking too much off, not taking enough off. It’s no wonder really with so much Conflicting advice around in books, the internet, magazines and on telly. Hopefully over the next couple of years, I will go through my own methods of pruning and hopefully explain how I get the best from the roses I look after and hopefully make it a little clearer! 
To prune any plant no matter what it is, you have to know not only what it is, how it flowers and grows but also what you want from it. Now the first two I can help with but the 3rd is down to you to decide. First of all what it is the difference between rambling and climbing roses, this is the hardest part for most people, so many times I get asked what is the difference between a rambler and a climber. A climbing rose is basically a shrub or bush rose that grows too big to be grown without any support, as a shrub or bush rose it needs a framework of wood 2+years old in the plant to allow it to flower the best. While a rambler is the true climber, it uses long growths to scrabble over anything it’s path whether it’s a tree, building, rock face or even the ground. These new growths can be up to 25ft in one year depending on the variety grown. These new stems are the best for producing flowers the following year, i.e. Wood that’s  1 year old at time of flowering. The 2nd year old wood tends to produce smaller flowers on the growths, but also produces new longer stems further from the base which maybe too long to use on a frame or a structure. These long and mainly flexible current growing stems makes them ideal for wrapping around features like poles, ropes and arches. This also encourages the rose to flower from the bottom to the top. There are 2 types of ramblers, the repeat flowering and the once flowering. It is the once flowering ones we are looking at during this blog. Again once flowering rambling can be divided up into 2 types, those who produce hips and those that don’t. Pruning is the same for both, just the hip forming ones can be done in February while the none hip forms can be done now or once they have flowered. Reason being that all the flowering wood is removed to encourage these new growths to grow even more. This is because with removing the flowered wood, it puts more effort and energy into the new wood and this will grow even more  after pruning. That said a weekly feed of liquid seaweed and a handful of vitax Q4 after pruning will help it to grow even more. I hope the picture guide will help explain it even more 

img 0175 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
The rambling rose once it’s finished flowering showing both flowered wood and new growth
img 0176 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
The new growth! This is what you want! Please please please don’t cut these off, try and tie in during the season before flowering
img 0185 1 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
Prune back the flowered stems to a nice new growth, always find its best to do this for all stems can thin out older ones or not as good ones after you have finished and have a chance to review what’s left
img 0186 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
Once I have pruned the stem, I lay it at right angles to the base of the plant so it out of the way and all together
img 0190 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
Once all the flowered wood is pruned away, I start tying in the new growth, using the longest ones growing from the base if possible, tying them to cover as much as possible
img 0193 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
I like to use a figure of 8 knot to secure the new growth to the fixings, don’t tie it too tight or the string will dig into the plant as it grows
img 0199 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
I try and train the stems in curves to encourage as many breaks of the flower growths next year as I can, it can also be useful to cover a bigger space with the really long growths, the shorter ones I use to cover the bare patches near the base of the plant.
img 0196 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
The finished pruned plant, note the amount of waste produced, pruning like this does produce a lot of waste, all there is left to do now is feed the plant with Vitax Q4 and tie in the new growth once every 2weeks and enjoy the flowers next summer
img 2858 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
The rose flowering the following year
img 3860 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
This rambling rector is spread out more but is still pruned the same way
img 3866 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
This rambler is pruned the same way but the new growths are wrapped around the pillar, going both clock and anti-clockwise
011 Pruning once flowering rambling roses
The new growths can be turned into any shape you like and will flower well!

Really they are that easy, just a case of removing the old flowered wood and tie in the new stems, they are really as simple as that. I tend to use just my silky pruning saw, my trust Tobisho SR1 secateurs to prune and nutscene 3ply twine to tie in. 

I hope you enjoyed the blog and found it useful! 

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Plant of the week- Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’ 

img 0204 Plant of the week  Buddleja davidii Black Knight 

img 5180 Plant of the week  Buddleja davidii Black Knight 
Well after a few weeks break with the Rose of the week, we are back to the plant of the week but with a slight difference. For the next month it’s The Butterfly count. This is carried out each year by the Butterfly conservation to monitor the more common types of butterflies we see in our gardens. So to celebrate this, for the next month I will be focusing on plants that are looking great at this time of year but also attract in butterflies. To start this off, it has to be the Butterfly Bush, Buddleja. There are so many great forms of great plant (check back in a few weeks for a more indepth look) but I have chosen my favourite form and also one of the darkest forms of Buddleja, Black Knight. 

img 0201 Plant of the week  Buddleja davidii Black Knight 
Buddleja davidii is a native of Central and west China, were it grows up to 8000ft above seas level, where it can grow in some  pretty poor soils, hence the reason it selfseeds and grows in any space in the uk, whether it’s a bit of waste ground, roof top or sides of a quarry. Sadly this ability has labelled it as a invasive plant. It was introduced into Europe by the French missionary Father David (hence davidii) from east Tibet in 1869. Buddleja itself was named of the British amateur Reverend Adam Buddleja by Von Linne in 1737. The form ‘Black Knight’ was bred by the famous Moerheim nursery in Holland by Ruys. It has become the most popular form of Buddleja to be grown mainly due to is stunning flowers that are the darkest form of any Buddleja. The flowers funny enough are smaller than the normal size of Buddleja flowers by are bourne on plants that will quite happily make 4m in height. It was grow away in most forms of soil, although it will struggle on heavy waterlogged ones. 

img 0200 Plant of the week  Buddleja davidii Black Knight 
It is pretty pest and disease free apart from the horrible eel worm. They are a microscopic nematodes that live in the young shoots of leaves of the plant, they tend to cause yellow patches in the leaves and deformed growth on the tips of new growth. To check if it has it, cut an infected shoot up and place into a glass of water and leaves for 30 minutes, if they are present, you will see tiny little balls of these tiny tiny worms at the bottom of the glass. To treat, best way is to remove infected shoots during the growing season and all old leaves in the winter and burn. 

Pretty easy to prune, I tend to prune mine in March and more details can be found here

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Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 

img 0168 Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 

For many of us, Hardy Geraniums, are the reliable source of colour within our borders, some types like ‘Rozanne’, ‘Nimbus’, ‘Mavis Simpson’ flowering almost non stop from May to the first frosty touches of winter hit us. Indeed there’s not a week goes by without one in flower within my small borders at home. No matter how well they flower, at sometime during the summer months, they will either get too big or the flowers will get smaller, the plant its self will start to look tatty and really not look nice, indeed it’s almost like someone’s put a big donut on top of the plant, with lush new growth appearing in the middle of the plant. 

This is the time to get heavy handed and take a risk! First of all I would like to say not all geraniums will respond to the method below, ones with a woody centre like sanginium, wallichainium and more clump forming ones like renardi, macrophyllum, canabridgense etc can’t be treated in this way. The plants idea for this method include oxanium, riverleaianum, magnificum, pratense, phaeum, etc ones that really start looking like someone has plonked a donut on top. 

First of all it’s important to have the right weather to carry out the work, overcast days when the soil is damp is an idea time to carry out this task. We don’t always get weather like this, so as long as you water afterwards, it still should be ok

img 0166 1 Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 
Here we have Geranium ‘Nimbus’ looking slightly tatty, the donut is starting to appear in the middle and new growth is coming up
img 0167 Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 
The good new growth in the centre of the plant can clearly be seen with the older stems looking a lot more browner
img 0168 Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 
All you need to do is cut back the old growths back the The centre of the plant, I prefer to use a hand scythe to a pair of secateurs
img 0169 Keeping your Hardy geraniums looking good! 
The finish plant all cut back, within two weeks, it will be growing away strongly again and soon flowering for the rest of the summer looking so much smarter!

I tend to give them a feed of Vitax Q4 or blood,fish and bonemeal afterwards and keep them well watered afterwards. You can also lift and divide the plant after cutting back if you so require (for method, please see here). The hand scythe was supplied from Niwaki and really makes the job so much easier and less painful on the wrists. It’s what the Japanese use to harvest rice. 

Nice easy job over the weekend  

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Box blight- Managing and living with it 

img 1182 Box blight  Managing and living with it 


img 0912 Box blight  Managing and living with it 
Box parterre at Cliveden House
Box blight is now one of two major problems for one of the most important hedging and topairy plants we have in the garden, the other being the box moth, that is causing a lot a problems in London at the moment. To the rest of us, blight is the biggest concern in the garden if we have box hedging or topiary, is that browning  of the leave tips the start or just leaf scorch?

So what is box blight?

Well it is a fungus that causes problems to the stem and leaves of members of the Buxus family. It doesn’t effect the roots of the plants thankfully. There are two blights that effect the Buxus, first one is the main blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola and the second one is called Volutella blight, this one is a little less serous. The signs that your hedge maybe infected with Box Blight (Cylindrocladium) are first of all, small patches of dieback appearing on the hedge. img 1179 Box blight  Managing and living with it 

These little patches will soon spread and the dead woody growth waill have black streaks visible though the spilting bark. This can spread over the whole plant quickly.  The tiny spores form under the leaves during wet mild spells, these are white. Volutella blight differs from not losing as much leaves, lack the black streaking and also have pink spores under the leaves instead of white.  Box blight tend to spread by water splashes due to rain or over head watering, this can be wind blown as well. Like  a lot of other foliage fungi,  the younger leaves are much easier for the fungus to gain a foot hold and infect the plant. While Volutella blight, tends to be also spread on the open wounds after cutting.  With Box blight, the spores can be viable on old dead leaves for up to 6years! One other warning is that Box blight isn’t just on Buxus but can effect other members of the Buxuacaea including Sarcococca,

img 1183 Box blight  Managing and living with it 
Box hedge really suffering
So that’s the problem, so what about the effects on them, well it can be pretty bad with Box blight, whole sections of the hedging can die back, slowly spreading but again depends the weather and where the garden is based in the country,  mild and damp really help the spread of the fungus, which does make it more at home in the damper areas areas of the uk. Volutella blight tends to cause smaller areas of dieback that can be cut out easily

img 1177 Box blight  Managing and living with it 
bad dieback but life still there 


However good the treatments can be, it’s far better and easier to prevent it in the first place.  Some good methods can be used to both prevent it coming into the garden in the first place and also reducing the spread of it around the garden.

  •  First thing is selecting healthy disease free stock in the first place, try buying one or two plants to start with and place them away from other plants in quarantine for a couple of months to see if they develop the blight, many of the commercial sources of Box, do spray regularly as a preventive measure, so will be ok until this wears off.
  • If you are looking at adding or replacing bits of existing Box hedging, topiary or indeed plants and your current stock is blight free, well worth propagating your own plants via hardwood cuttings to stop the disease coming in.
  • If you are starting a new parterre, hedge or topiary, it’s well worth using Buxus microphylla hybrids like Faulkner, have been found to be less susceptible to both fungi compared to Buxus semperverens.
  • Also try not to plant too close, increase the planting distance will help to reduce the density of the hedge.
  •  Once planted, box is a hungry and thirsty plant, something that we tend to forget, good feeding and ground level watering will help to keep plants stress free and growing them in a healthy soil again will keep them in better condition, a strong healthy plant is more able to fight pest and diseases it just also be careful not to overfeed as this can encourage the plant to put on lots of soft growth that’s also more susceptible to the fungus.
  • Think about adding a soft mulch under the hedge, something like Progrow, compost and mushroom compost rather than bark mulch or stones, the soft mulches will reduce the height of water drop splash back onto the plant.
  • Avoid watering the box using overhead watering systems, something like leaky pipe or drip irrigation is better and avoids water splashes.
  • Good husbandry by clearing out all the dead leaves at the base of the hedge and also not blowing the leftover trimmings back under the hedge! While on the subject of using blowers, try to avoid the use of them when the hedge is wet from rain or heavy dew.
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feeds and liquid feeds 


  •  Trimming is another job that’s pretty crucial in reducing both the risk of introducing and spreading the fungus, not only just from the trimming and the open cuts it’s produces but also from the fact that you encourage new softer growth, which being so soft, allows an easy way for the fungus to gain a hold.
  • And also regular trimming encourages a very dense front to the plant, that is pretty difficult for sprays to penetrate. Traditionally the time to trim your box is late May but trimming at this time of the year tends to produce 2 lots of soft growth per year, one just before trimming and one after, changing the time to late summer/early autumn will only produce one lot of growth in the following year and therefore reducing the risk, yes it will look not as sharp in mid summer but if it cuts down the risk, it must be worth it.
  • Also try and cut it on a dry day, once any early morning dew and rain has dried off from the foliage.
  • Another big tip on cutting box, must be to ensure the equipment is clean, both sap being cleaned off the blades regularly with something like Niwaki’s cleam block to avoid build up.
  • Also worth sterilising the blades using either something like white spirt on a cloth and wiping over the blade or my favourite method of using bleach, either in 5% solution in a bucket so you can dip the hand tools into the mixture every few minutes or every time you move on to another plant or section of hedge. Powered equipment can be easily treated using bleach in a spray bottle and sprayed on the blades as per hand tool use. This is well worth asking and making sure your contractor does this if you are using one!
  • One other tip to do 7-10 days before trimming the box, is to spray with a fungicide (see later on for recommend ones) and then repeat 7-10 days  after, this again will help on reducing the spread of the fungus and checking the establishment on newly cut areas. Just one more reminder not to blow the trimmings under the hedge after you have finished! Indeed, never be afraid to tell you contractor that as well!
  • One last tip on prevention, think about maybe starting up a regular foliage feed spraying of the box to feed the leaves and make them stronger, again stronger healthy leaves are much better at fighting dieseases, products like Uncle Toms Plant Tonic, that helps to encourage tougher new growth, liquid seasweed, that adds lots of trace minerals as well as a general feed, Topbuxus is also a great produce to spray every 2-6 weeks (depending on product) during the season.
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Infected Box hedge with top opened up to all airflow and spraying for treatment 

Management if you already have it

Well with most fungi problems, you would have the cure of the disease here, but there is no cure for Box blight just management of the fungus. If it’s already in the garden, most the information above will help to slow down the movement but the diseased plants need a bit of treatment, this varies depending on how bad it is.

Beginning of an infection can be treated by removing diseased material and burning it, then clearing away old dead leaves, then start regularly foliage spraying as per prevention and also using some of the fungicides that are now on the market for domestic use including Bayer Fungus Fighter that can be sprayed 6 times a year. Professionals will have access to chemicals like Signum, Bravo 500, Switch and Amistar

A severe infection needs a little bit more work, all dead branches need to be removed, indeed it maybe worth renovating the section, cutting main branches back to the stem on half the plant, encouraging new healthy growth to come though and allow better access to both remove old dead foliage, adding mulch to the plant and allow the chemical/liquid feed to penetrate all areas of the plant easy. Once it started to regrow nicely, then that’s the time to cut back the other half. It is then a case of carrying out the preventive advice  above on the box for the life of the hedge
Yes admittly it’s a lot of work to keep a plant in the garden, but if you are keen and want the best from what’s growing in the garden. There are always a few alternatives to plant instead of buxus, plants like Taxus can make a good choice if another tight sharp looking hedge is required, but to be honest, there’s nothing that looks as good as a box parterre or edging. If you want that look, it’s just worth taking the time to either keeping your ones safe or managing the problem. The days of planting and forgetting are now sadly gone but maybe we shouldn’t of done the ‘plant and forget it’ in the first place, we dont tend to do this for all the other plants in our gardens do we? so why our hedges and topiary, the important framework of our borders.

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west Green Gardens have some wonderful examples 


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Job of the week- pruning back Penstemons 

img 2521 2 Job of the week  pruning back Penstemons 

Penstemons to me are a great plant to have in any size garden, they flower all summer long and are loved by bees. They come in such a wide range of colours as well as well as being so easy to look after as well. They are one of those plants that don’t need much pruning other than removal of spent blooms during the summer to encourage a longer flowering season. But if they are left alone, they can get rather woody and well just ugly if I do say, one thing I can’t stand in the garden are plants that look ugly, it’s bad enough having me around the place! So I have found the best way to keep them looking fresh and young during their short 5-7yr life span. I like to leave it until now with some new growth coming from the base, alsok the worst of the frost will have disappeared and while they are hardy in all but the coldest weather, I like to leave the older stems on offering some protection to the new growth. I then simply prune the old stems down to the base or near some new shoots using my sharp secateurs and then remove it. Pretty simple but can make a massive difference to the appearance of the plant. Other plants like fuchsias, Melianthus  can be treated this way but I like to do those in early May when the growth is a little longer and a bit hardier against any late frosts.

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Job of the week-tying in climbers 

Well it’s not so much of a job of the week, but more of a job for almost every week for the next 4-6months, Although it’s a simple job, it’s an important one, even more so on the more vigorous climbers like Clematis and roses. It stops the new growths being broken and damaged, also gets them going into places you want them too! I use nutscene 3 ply twine and just tie in the new growths roughly where I want them using a over hand knot and done. It’s well worth checking them every week and one word of warning, becareful the young growths can be rather delicate and easy to break. One other advantage of doing this, is that you can check on the health of the plant at the same time as tying inimg 2607 2 Job of the week tying in climbers img 2605 1 Job of the week tying in climbers img 2609 Job of the week tying in climbers 

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Job of the week- Pruning Buddleja 

My job of the week this week is back to the job I love most pruning, there is nothing much nicer pruning and shaping a plant knowing that it will look good and encourage better plants for it.

Pruning buddlejas is a pretty simple job, all you need is a pair of really sharp secateurs, a sharp pruning saw and a pair of loppers to carry out the work and also a pair of leather gloves and safety glasses just in case of any slips of the tool and plant kind, always find avoiding A&E ideal as the NHS is so stretched

I like to carry out this task around this time of year as although buddleja are tough plants that will grow anywhere, I have found in the past that doing it early can exposed the new shoots to forest damage and then cause a few problems to the health of the plant.

I aim for a plant that’s about 45cm in height when pruned, as the new growth in the year can be up to 7ft in height, I find pruning down to this height idea to encourage a good shaped plant with lots of new growth coming rom the base. First thing I do is to remove any dead wood out of the plant and remove any old massive stems that are crowding the newer younger stems. The new stems are pruned down to about 35cm to allow the frame work of side branches to form over time. In a couple of years, these will get to the 45cm height and then hopefully removed. For the side growths that are already growing from the frame work of older branches, I remove them down to 2 sets of buds with a straight level cut, why a straight cut? Well the buds on buddejas are oppersite each other so required a flat level cut, other plants like roses are alternate so need a oppersite cut

Well I hope that’s easy to understand and enjoy the weekend of pruning.

img 2114 Job of the week  Pruning Buddleja 
pruning with a start cut just above the bud

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pruning with a start cut just above the bud

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The plant before i start
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sometimes the saw comes out

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the finished plant with my tools