Pruning is a vital part of gardening. It lets us get the most out of our plants, restricting them to the space available and, with soft fruit, ensures a better harvest next year.

Equally important, pruning keeps plants healthy and productive. Removing excess growth improves air circulation so prevents fungal diseases. Ripening fruit benefits from extra sunlight and harvesting is much easier, especially with prickly stems, like those of most gooseberries.

Pruning is a 2 stage operation with soft fruit such as red and white currants and gooseberries. The first stage is summer pruning over the next 2 or 3 weeks to reduce fresh vegetative growth. The main formative pruning takes place in late winter. This is also when you prune blackcurrants.

Summer pruning prevents the plant putting its energies into new growth and encourages bud formation and therefore flowering the following year. It’s also wasteful letting the plant grow shoots which will be cut out during the main winter pruning.

I now start by cutting out all the new spindly shoots growing in the centre of the bush. With all the currants, I completely cut back the ground hugging branches at harvest time. They would go in the winter, and I might as well make it easier to strip the berries just now.

I restrict the new growth on gooseberries pruning to reducing it to 5 leaves and will shorten to 2 buds in winter. I also remove all new growth from ‘the leg’.

The same principle applies to trained soft fruit, where tight shape is essential. New growth should be reduced to 2 leaves.

A second type of fruit is pruned completely differently. Summer fruiting rasps, loganberry, bramble and Tayberries only fruit on one year old canes and stems, so the current fruiting branches should be completely removed after harvest to leave space for the new stems. Otherwise, everything would become damagingly congested.

The brown, elderly raspberry canes are easily distinguished from the new green and fresh looking ones. I select the best tall new canes and loosely attach to the frame. I remove all the small and spindly canes and ones growing too far away from the retaining frame.

As insurance against winter damage, I keep more new canes than necessary and, in spring, only retain and tie in six of them for fruiting.

Autumn fruiting raspberries are treated completely differently to summer ones. All canes are removed in late winter and will fruit on next year’s fresh growth.

You can get an extended fruiting season by pruning out half of the canes and leaving the remainder. These older canes will fruit in summer and the new ones will fruit in autumn as usual.

Strawberries also need attention after harvest. Good hygiene and next year’s crop are the bywords. Although it sounds drastic, all the old foliage and fruiting stems should be removed, together with straw or whatever mulch you used to keep the berries off the ground.

You’ll quickly see a new flush of leaves. Left to their own devices, strawberries produce a forest of runners, most of which should be removed as soon as you see them. But inevitably, some slip through, so they too should be pruned out.

Ideally, one strong runner can be left to provide a new plant for next year. The mother plant produces a string of potential children along each runner, but for a strong new one, cut off all but the first.

Lift the young plant, with soil attached and, still attached to the mother strawberry, pot up and sink in the ground, pegging down the runner. Lift and transplant in spring. It should fruit well next year.

Plant of the week

Shrub rose ‘White Wings’. White, papery petals surround striking red anthers. Fragrant and repeat flowering, grows to 1.2 m. with dark green foliage.