Cloud pruning is a form of topiary that is now becoming very popular now. Many thanks to people who have the great vision in creative pruning like Jake Hobson. It is basically sculpturing the plant from one large rounded shape into one that has many rounded part and indeed can look almost like a cloud. Almost any plant that doesn’t mind being pruned and shaped regularly can have this done to them. Ideal candidates are plants like yew, box, cotoneaster and forms of shrubby loniceria. They can be newly planted or mature specimens that have well been blobbed in the past and it’s a specimen like that I am showing you how to turn from a blob into a thing of beauty within one growing season. It will take a few trims to get it right but once you have a shape and structure you need, it’s a case of just trimming back to this every few months or once per year depending on growth on the plant.
The tools you need are a pair of sharp good quality pair of shears. I use these pair of ARS shears, the reason I don’t use my quality topiary shears at this time is due to the fact I will be cutting into older wood and they aren’t designed for it. A pair of secateurs finishes off the tool requirements well apart from a rake
Firstly you need a blob and this variegated loniceria is indeed one! It’s made up of a group of plants and lends itself perfectly to want I want to do.
As you can see, there’s lots of growth on there to be trimmed back
So I slowly start to form more round shapes into the bush using shears. I trimmed this first section a bit harder, to get it away from the potentilla.
You can see shapes slowly starting to appear and you just keep trimming these shapes into the plant, these don’t need to be any shape of size, just what you want and feel it would be good for the plant. It is at times, these shapes appear to you as you trim, these shapes may come from branch networks or indeed from the individual plants within a group, making natural mounds or shapes. These are hidden from the first view from other branches, so try and be flexible when pruning like this
You can see the shapes really forming now
Thicker bits can be removed using secateurs
While the shaping can be done with the shears
It doesn’t take long to form these lovely shapes that give a little bit of a simpsons cloud effect and give the garden a feature of interest for you all to look at
It’s a pretty quick job, I think it took me about 45 minutes to form this beautiful shape in this garden. When I have gone in so hard into a shrub like this, I look at it as a summer project to get the plant shaped up into its final shape. It may change a little bit but that’s the fun thing about pruning like this. You can do the same effect by buying in new Plants and shaping those as they grow.
We shall be returning later on in the summer to see how it is doing and look at adjusting the shape if required and regular shaping
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.
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
Picture of a clean drop pruning cut
How it worked
Cutting straight through
A straight though cut that shows the damage that it can cause
The growing collar as described in text
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
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.
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.
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.
A rose has alternative buds, as you can see there’s no bud opposite
While this Hydrangea has its buds opposite each other
When pruning plants with opposite buds, you aim for a level cut just above the top of the bud
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
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.
Whenever you are pruning shrubs there’s always one little bit you can’t reach whether its from the ground or indeed perched on a step ladder, reaching those little bits has always been in the realm of the long arm pruners. I have used many forms in the past and they all have the same problem, the blade! I love using razor sharp secateurs and want all my other pruning equipment to be as sharp but all the long arm pruners I have used in the past, well the blade not to put a fine point on it, has been rubbish! That was until I brought these Japanese made ARS ones. Yes they aren’t cheap at £119.00 but the blade is a Felco quality blade, one that holds it edge better than any other long arm pruners on the current market. It is also easily replaced by undoing a few screws. Now don’t get me wrong, these won’t handle the large range of thick branches that the more robust long arm pruners will manage but it will handle most plant materials up to about 12mm thick making it ideal for fine pruning of things like roses, wisterias, fruit trees and other shrubs. The length starts at 6ft and is easily extendable to the maximum 10ft in 1ft using the push button adjustment, just hold it in and pull the pole until it clicks in, the pruning head is also easy to adjust and goes into 3 different angles to get the right angle to get the best cut. With all the other long arm pruners I have used in the past, to cut anything, you need to pull on a rope or a lever, which isn’t ideal when you are up some steps or moving amongst a load of plants with the cord trapped up somewhere. These have squeezable handle that makes the job of cutting very easy as does the sliding grip for you other hand. The ARS long arm pruners are very well built with the added bonus that all parts are serviceable and replaceable if required. They are very little light to use and in the last six months I have had the pleasure to use them, worked very well and have been easy to look after and keep sharp. Try hard as I can, I can’t find a fault in them, they do what they are intended for, very well and indeed I am left with the feeling it was more of my hard earned money well spent
For light pruning I would whole heartily recommend them
You can buy them from a number of suppliers who do supply ARS. I brought mine from the rather excellent Niwaki and their website can be found by clicking here
The cutting head is well made and easy to sharpen as well as replace if needed. The flexible metal strip is what makes it all work!
The squeezable handles are very easy to use and not caused any blisters yet! They stay closed using the black clip. It is very easy to use and in a great position.
The nice sliding handle is prefect to get your hand in the right place
The length adjustment is pretty easy just press in and pull until you hear a click and the popper pops in to the hole pic below
The heads are fully adjustable to 3 angles