Once the light goes at the end of October the vast majority of trees and shrubs start to close down for the winter. This is one of the best times to carry out any renovation work on older shrubs that have got too large for their allotted space, or are only flowering at the very ends of the branches or have just got too old.
November through to February is the ideal window for doing much of the winter pruning work. Just wrap up warm in loose fitting cloths and ensure you have the right tools available.
Do a few stretching exercises before you start so as not to pull any muscles, and just remember you do not have to spend all day doing the work. If you are not used to pruning all day, don’t. Spend an hour or two each day over the week and you will soon have the job done without hurting yourself.
Wait until all of the leaves are off the shrubs and then you can cut all the strong stems to within 1-2 ft (30-60 cm) of ground level. Remove entirely any weak growths and any stumps which will affect the balance of the new growth once it starts being produced.
I find the very best tools for this work are a folding handled pruning saw, a bow saw, good strong loppers – those which have a buffer between the handles are much easier to use and take the strain out of the work, I also find that the bypass type are far better, and do less damage, than the types which cut against an anvil - and a good pair of secateurs. I have spent my life using Felco secateurs and there is no better make on the market. They are not the cheapest but they are the Rolls Royce of secateurs.
Folding-handled saws are great in confined spaces and are much safer to handle and store than those saws which do not have a blade guard. The other thing that can be used where space is difficult is a pointed-nosed bow saw.
Please be careful when using a bow saw. Most people think they can cut through much larger branches than they should be doing so when using a small bow saw. Limbs are far heavier then they look, and once cut can surprise you by their weight. If you are removing thick or heavy material do so by taking it down in 12” (30cm) sections.
If you find that you have to remove a shrub completely because of disease or it has out-lived its purpose, then it is always worthwhile to remove the root system to prevent any diseases living and feeding on the old roots. The number of times I have been called out to solve the problem of trees and shrubs dying is no business, and most of the time it is caused by honey fungus invading the old root system and then spreading to other living plants.
I know it can be remarkably hard work, but, dig around the old stump using a strong spade and then sever the main roots using a large pair of loppers or a pruning saw. If you find you cannot gain enough room then a small sharp hand axe can be invaluable. It is important to remove all the roots.
If you cannot face this task yourself, either get a gardener in to do it for you, or contact a tree specialist and ask if they have a stump grinder available or get them to remove it for you.
Once you have done all the pruning clean the tools in meths or white sprit to kill off any spores and prevent passing on any infection from dirty tools. Remember, finally, before putting your tools away to wipe the blades over with an oily rag.
When pruning always protect your hands with a strong pair of gloves. Over the years I have tried all sorts and have now settled on those which are covered in nitrile. These are also waterproof, so if the material is damp first thing in the morning with dew it will not be a problem. Those lined with fleece or soft cotton are more comfortable.
One of the problems I do find, however, with the nitrile gloves is that they can be stiff first thing in a morning when they are cold. I solve this problem by bringing them into the kitchen the night before I do any work. It means that they are supple and warm allowing me to face the day in a comfortable manner.