Winter might not seem the most appealing time of year to dig your secateurs out of the shed to prune your fruit bushes, but it's the most ideal time to complete the task.
Why bother pruning?
Pruning your fruit bushes is a good idea for several reasons.
Many fruit bushes become a tangle of stems after rampant growth from the previous season, so giving your bushes a pruning removes these tangles and lets light and air into the centre of the plant. This prevents diseases and makes it easier to access the fruit.
Pruning also lets you dictate the shape of your fruit bushes. By creating a strong framework of branches, you will actively encourage growth in a direction that suits the plant and the available space.
Crucially, pruning is necessary to cut back old wood that's no longer productive, and it will encourage new growth on stems up to four years old.
Winter is an ideal time to prune your fruit bushes as the plants are dormant, so sap won't leak from cut stems and cause disease.
How to prune
Pruning fruit bushes can seem a bit complicated at first, but once you understand the mechanisms behind it, it soon starts to make complete sense. You'll need to employ different strategies according to the type and age of fruit bush in question.
For blackcurrant bushes, pruning is important to encourage young shoots to grow from the base. Flowers and fruit form on the previous year's shoots. Any shoots more than two years old should be cut down to a height of 2.5cm - wood older than two years is grey or black, while new shoots are light brown.
Redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries are best grown as open-centred bushes. Prune the tips of redcurrant and white currant branches, and cut back side shoots to an outward-facing bud. For gooseberry bushes, cut back old wood to open up the bush, keeping young shoots pointing upwards and outwards. Alternatively, you can tip prune the main stems, whilst cutting back side shoots to a bud around 8cm from the base. Remember to keep the shape of the bush open by pruning to an outward-facing bud.
Adding organic matter to the soil around your fruit bush is also beneficial at this time of year. Known as mulching, you can use garden compost, topsoil or bark. Mulching adds nutrients to the soil and thus helps to encourage growth later on in the year, but it also suppresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil.
A word of warning: Once you have gone to the effort of pruning and mulching your fruit bushes to encourage vigorous growth in the summer months, you won't be the only one keen to taste the fruits of your labour! Birds in general, but particularly blackbirds and thrushes, will strip the fruit off your bushes in one fell swoop given half the chance, so protecting bushes with netting or fruit cages is vital. Take a look the reliably high quality netting products and fruit cages at Henry Cowls… it’s by far your best bet!