It may seem a strange thing to do but the few weeks following mid August into September are the perfect time to prune apples. When I first mention this the reaction is usually that I am mad and I will be cutting off all the fruits. But summer pruning never cuts off any fruit. And the whole point of it is that it slows vigorous growth, encourages flowering and helps get a young tree into the fruiting ‘mood’.
You can prune an apple in winter or in August. If you prune in winter trees tend to produce vigorous, upright stems and these will not produce fruit for several years. If pruned indiscriminately the tree becomes a thicket of upright, unproductive foliage. These new shoots should be thinned and shortened the following summer or trees just get taller and useless.
Summer pruning of trees consists simply of shortening the side shoots to four leaves. Because these are shoots that grew this summer they will not have any apples on them. But the shortened shoots will be likely to produce flowers next spring. Shortening this years growth is also a way to keep plants compact and better branched.
By leaving the pruning till now the buds that are left will not sprout this year. That is why we delay hedge pruning till now – so they won’t sprout this autumn and the hedges remain neat for the longest time.
Summer pruning is necessary if you want to keep your apples small and tidy and is essential for any trained shape such as cordons or espaliers.
Pears can be treated in the same way and, if you need to prune plums, peaches or cherries, now is the time to do it. Never prune stone fruits when they are not in leaf – they must be pruned in summer to prevent the chance that the cut stems will be infected with silver leaf disease.
Plant of the week: Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’
Herbaceous borders can look a bit dull in early autumn so we need some reliable plants to provide colour. One of my favourites is Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. It blooms for months, with masses of pale yellow mini sunflowers. Some perennial sunflowers have a deserved reputation for being invasive. The delightful ‘Monarch’ is one of these and a small potful I planted last summer is now a clump 1.5m across and will have to be dealt with forcefully. But ‘Lemon Queen’ forms neat clumps. It is tall. My three-year clumps are 2m high but, despite the windy spot are self-supporting. They are 60cm wide at the base and 1.2m wide at the top. Young, vigorous plants may need staking. It is a good cut flower but I like it most for the garden and the way it attracts bees and butterflies.
Jobs for the week
Apply an autumn lawn food to help lawns look good all winter
Look for colchicums, nerines and autumn crocus to plant for colour in September and October
If patio pots and baskets are looking past their best, replace the plants now for colour from autumn to spring. Look for pots of chrysanthemums in bloom for an instant hit of colour and mini cyclamen for colour and fragrance. Otherwise, keep feeding pots to keep the colour coming.
Start to lift onions. Push a fork under them and lift to break the roots and encourage ripening