Roses in the kitchen garden at Ham House

January gardening jobs: time to prune and cut for function and form

Learn how to prune roses and yew trees this winter, with the help of Ham House's head gardener Rosie Fyles

One of the first jobs for January at Ham House Garden is winter pruning the wisteria. It’s challenging (high up), often bitterly cold (we must be cleared up before 10am garden opening) but incredibly satisfying. Cutting back to 2-3 buds of lateral growth while noticing the developing flower buds is a step towards spring and we move closer to one of the year’s flowering highlights.

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Pruning

Roses

There are other pruning jobs to get on with, not least our kitchen garden roses. They work hard throughout the summer, their flowers picked for house display and sale and their growth gets some damage from avian and human visitors. One thing we increasingly notice is that it isn’t always possible to prune roses when entirely dormant.

Watch my video guide to pruning roses here

If there’s one thing you can do other than prune well it’s to feed roses that are flowering longer and growing more. We use liquid seaweed feed, at least monthly, fortnightly if we can, from after first frost through August. The stronger your plant, the less likely it will be susceptible to problems.

Pruning a yew hedge

Pruning isn’t just about improving flowering. In January it can very much be about improving form, too. We have created a new design in our yew hedging that could be re-created in any garden. Our shapes are simple, appropriate to the history of the garden and the principle of the approach is simple too. Use long growth to create a pattern and cut hard around it to develop shapes. You can see the yew hedge we have all fallen in love with below.

Watch how to prune a yew hedge

We have recently changed our box care cutting regimes, tackling this job in the cold months too while always avoiding extreme heat and very damp conditions, meaning less risk of scorch and blight. Winter is busier while June is, enjoyably, a bit quieter.

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Watch out for birds when pruning and cutting

If you are pruning and cutting, try to fit your winter tasks in during January and early February. It’s been proven that in recent years, and in many areas, birds are nesting earlier. Look out for birds nesting and avoid disturbance from mid-February right to the end of summer. Consider leaving decaying branches on trees where their failure does not present a danger to anything or anybody. We have an old apple tree in the kitchen garden that woodpeckers nested in last year. The joy of watching adults feeding their young in your garden could become another of the new year’s highlights.

Read Rosie’s previous columns here