Prune now for colourful winter stems

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Dogwoods and willows can make a colourful statement in the garden. Steven Bradley explains how to encourage these bright, vigorous new stems

At its simplest, pruning is a means of manipulating a plant’s growth, shape and productivity. To prune plants well is not so much about knowing how anda where to cut, but knowing what you’re trying to achieve.
The main reasons for pruning are to train a plant to grow in a particular way, to balance its growth, to control the production of flowers and fruit, to maintain its health and restrict its growth. A final type of pruning, remedial or renovation pruning, may be necessary with neglected or overgrown plants.
• Formative pruning refers to the pruning required in the early years of a plant’s life. This allows you to create a plant that is well proportioned and attractive. Plants pruned correctly in their formative years are easier to care for in their later years.
• Routine pruning is the act of maintaining the plant’s shape as it grows. A healthy plant shows vigorous active growth especially when it’s young and establishing itself. As plants mature and begin to flower and fruit on a regular basis, the production of shoots slows down: routine pruning can maintain more youthful vigour. In the case of willows and dogwoods, whose stems become more woody and dull as they age, colourful young growth can be achieved by hard pruning each year, cutting the whole plant down to within 5-8cm (2-3in) of ground level.
• Remedial pruning is used to gain control of a plant that’s misshapen, congested or neglected. Dogwoods and willows both respond well to remedial pruning, but years of neglect can’t be rectified in one season.
Dogwoods (cornus) and willows (salix) are among the easiest shrubs to grow; their stems, leaves and flowers provide year-round interest. Some willows also have attractive catkins while others are selected for their weeping habit or twisted stems.

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