Are you taking care of your trees and pruning suckers? | PumpjackPiddlewick

One of the great benefits of living with someone who has a degree in oenology and viticulture (wine making and vineyard management) is that he is a wiz at pruning. Pumpjack really understands how things grow and what to do when. And, he is my mentor.

Vineyards are just organised gardens

I learned to prune in our vineyard, learning when and how to cut away branches and when to debud. That education has now moved into our garden. Pumpjack has now taught me how to prune plants, bushes and trees, and I have to say I love it! There is something so, so therapeutic about cutting away dead wood, or knowing you are invigorating a plant, giving it new energy.

Why Prune?

Pruning is generally done when plants are dormant. That is, when it’s cold. Why? In a simplistic nutshell, sugars, nutrients, etc, within the plant retract into the roots, as the cold weather comes in, and become carbohydrates. It is the carbohydrates that give the energy, come spring, to bring forth the budding leaves. So pruning takes place in late autumn into winter, before buds begin to show on the tree or plant.

Pruning tidies up the plant, but also, as you take away dead or dieing branches as well as excess branches, it focuses the returning energy of the plant more vigorously into where you want it to go. If you think about it, say a small tree has 20 branches, that’s 20 branches dissipating the trees energy. If you prune away the weak, lower or excessive growth, the energy has less places to go and so will be stronger where it is most wanted.

Do you Prune… Suckers?

One often neglected area of a garden, I think, is its trees. So often information on gardening is focused on planting vegetables or flowers. As a tree is a plant in essence, it too requires attention. A tree will tell you whether it is healthy or not in a few ways. Suckers is one of the more noticeable.

Suckers are shoots (small branches or foliage) generally found near the base of the tree, but can also grow from the sides and further up. If you see them, they need to be cut away. They are weakening the tree, takings its energy. A tree that is struggling against disease or bugs does not have the energy to combat suckers, so they will start to invade. If you prune suckers, you give your trees a chance to be healthier. (And should also take the opportunity to see if there is disease or bugs, whilst you are at it.)

How to?

Prune suckers for a healthier garden. Your trees will thank you | PumpjackPiddlewickPruning suckers is easy. Get yourself a good set of a secateurs, the best you can afford as they are a must, must, must have in any garden. I also recommend a good sharpening stone, as good sharpened secateurs make pruning much easier. (Links to both are below.) Prune suckers from the tree as near to the tree or root as possible, and cut away all suckers and foliage. Clear away around the roots so no stray suckers hide from you.

I recently worked on a tree that hadn’t been tidied for at least over a year, possibly longer. The poor thing was inundated with suckers at its base and up its side, so much so you couldn’t even see the base of the tree! It can be overwhelming when confronted with so many, but take it slow and work your way in. I used a gardeners kneeling pad, but you could use a variety of garden helpers to save your knees and back. I simply began cutting the outer ones, using cutting shears (or lopers) for the larger suckers that were beyond my secateurs capabilities. After over an hour, I finally had a cleared and happy tree.

Low maintenance

Now that it is clear, it’s just a question of keeping an eye on it and should a new sucker rear its head, like a weed, get rid of it. Prune suckers any time of year, but if you have a tree that is inundated, it is best to cut as early as possible in spring, ideally before buds begin to show themselves.

If I see leaves trying to show themselves on a trunk, I simply wipe my hands over them, tugging them away or ripping the foliage so they won’t continue to grow. The maintenance of a healthy tree is easy.


If inquisitive or in need:

Books on ‘how to prune plants, bushes and trees


Sharpening stones

My gardeners kneeling pad

Other garden helpers to save your knees and back

and lopers

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