Action plan: Nigel Colborn’s advice for a final prune for wisterias
A FINAL PRUNE FOR WISTERIAS
Wisterias do benefit from being pruned twice a year. By midsummer, healthy plants produce long, wispy stems.
Those are routinely shortened to about 25cm. For better quality flowers you can shorten those stumps now, leaving two or three buds on each.
This second cut is optional but results in larger flower racemes and a bigger, better spring display.
Winter is also the time for structural pruning. Wisteria is a fast-growing thug.
If neglected it becomes a nuisance, obscuring windows, scrambling under roof tiles or becoming dense and overcrowded.
Nigel Colborn says wisterias do benefit from being pruned twice a year and by midsummer, healthy plants produce long, wispy stems
The winter stems are leafless, making them easier to see or unravel.
You can prune to weed out tangles, remove unwanted branches and thin out a large bulk of unwanted growth.
Part of the wisteria’s charm is the way the mature stems develop. They can be artistically gnarled and convoluted, with stubby side-shoots and short spurs which will carry clusters of blossom.
As you prune, look carefully for suckers. Those are shoots which have grown up from the rootstock, below the point where the variety was grafted. When removing suckers, cut them flush with the ground.
Better still, follow them to where they’re attached to the rootstock below the graft. That’s usually just under the surface of the soil.
SORT SOGGY PERENNIALS
Leaving perennials to stand through autumn and into winter is good practice. The seeds provide food to birds such as goldfinches and harbour small invertebrates, which feed wrens, bluetits and robins.
By now, however, many perennials have become a soggy mess. Cutting these to ground level will admit more daylight to the ground, where winter bulbs are already stirring.
Nigel’s plant of the week is the Corkscrew Hazel, Corylus Avellana Quirky shrub ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’, or the corkscrew hazel, discovered by 19th century clergymangardener Canon Ellacombe
The vegetation you cut away will compost quickly, especially if you cut all stems to short lengths. I pile them in the wheelbarrow and attack the load with hedging shears. Soon the wheelbarrow contents are easy to handle chopped perennials and are halfway to becoming garden compost.
DEAD-HEAD WINTER VIOLAS
Winter pansies and violas are tough little plants. Impervious to frost, gales or winter fog, they flower on valiantly whenever there’s a bright spell. If allowed to set seed, flowering will reduce.
So to keep them budding, remove all spent or partially dead blooms. Nip each flower stalk close to the point where it joins the viola’s leafy stem.
Optimistically called ‘winter pansies’ or ‘winter violas’, they are more hesitant in the darker months.
Keep deadheading, they will produce modest flushes after every mild spell.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: CORKSCREW HAZEL, CORYLUS AVELLANA
Quirky shrub ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’, or the corkscrew hazel, was discovered by 19th century clergymangardener Canon Ellacombe.
Hormones which control plant growth cause its stems to twist and convolute into grotesque shapes. It’s striking and then lambs’ tails catkins mature and hang from the twisted stems.
My aged plant bears good harvests of hazelnuts, which the squirrels usually grab first.
Hazels grow almost anywhere and can become large, but they respond well to pruning.
Why don’t my Christmas roses flower at Christmas? They look better for Easter but never flower in December or before.
Mrs H. Davis.
‘Christmas Rose’ is a misleading name for Helleborus niger.
Some varieties manage to flower for Christmas. But most that I’ve grown are likely to bloom from late January.
Many look better for Easter than in mid-winter.
There are varieties which do live up to the colloquial name. Hellebore guru Graham Rice is a fan of ‘Praecox’.
It apparently blooms from September onwards.
Another excellent variety, ‘Potter’s Wheel’, has large, white symmetrical flowers. It grows fairly well from seed. The RHS lists six suppliers on its site (rhs.org.uk).