March is nearly through and Easter just round the corner… gosh it’s zipping past this year! I’ve nearly ordered my chocolate eggs.

If you haven’t done so prune hard all of the following shrubs and a few climbers:

Buddleja davidii (the butterfly bush)
Hydrangea paniculata
Caryopteris ‘Kew Blue’
Mid to late summer flowering clematis such as C. viticella, C. jackmanii and C. tangutica
Spiraea japonica
Sambucus (elderberries)
Salix (willow)
Cornus alba (dogwood)

March pruningWhen I say hard prune, I mean cut all of last year’s growth to just in front of the old stumps. For the likes of the butterfly bush and elderberries, this could be extended further by cutting down to stumps around 60-90cm (2-3ft). This will open up the plant and allow greater air flow through, meaning less disease and possible pests.

For the coloured stems of willows and dogwoods, cut down growth to one bud in front of the old stems. You could keep the pruning to weave through any supports you’re creating or you could even use them as hardwood cuttings. Go to or type into any search engine the word ‘hardwood’ followed by ‘RHS’ and this will whisk you straight to the correct page. A cheap and easy method ideal for extending plant numbers… and it’s free!

With the summer clematis listed above, cut last year’s growth down to 1-2 pairs of opposite growth buds. This is hard pruning but ideal for these types as they flower on new growth.

Once pruning has been completed apply a general purpose feed such as Fish, Blood and Bone or Vitax Q4 at a rate of 35-50g/sqm., which equates to a good handful of feed. Lightly rake in and then apply a thick, well rotted layer of organic matter to a depth of 10cm (4″). This will keep the ground moist, weed free and even add fertility at sound point to the soil.

Good luck with this coming month. Keep up with any weeding and watch out for pest and diseases.

For any gardening tips why not contact Tom Cole, Senior Horticultural Lecturer, Writtle College, Chelmsford, CM1 3RR by post (including a SAE) or by email at

Ken Crowther and Geoff Hodge answer your gardening questions and queries, including when is the best time to prune pyracantha and can you propagate old pear trees. If you have a gardening question email

For thousands of years trees have been coppiced or pollarded for timber and charcoal. Today, gardeners use these techniques to promote young stems, restrict size and rejuvenate plants that respond to hard pruning, as Yvette Faris has been finding out.