Action plan: Nigel Colborn’s essential jobs for your garden this week

  • Nigel Colborn suggests that pruning apple and pear trees may be done now
  • If your tree branches are too crowded, winter pruning may be necessary 
  • Answers a question asked by a reader about an allotment that is infested by nettles


Now is the time to prune apple and pear tree trees for winter. To increase fruit yields and quality, summer pruning can be done.

Winter pruning is not necessary for trees with crowded branches, fruiting spurs that are congested or watershoots.

Start by trimming out any overgrown branches. Your tree should be free-standing with well-spaced branches. This will allow the sun to penetrate more fruit and improve its flavour.

For spur-fruiting varieties of spurs, congested spurs need to be trimmed every couple years. The total spur count should be reduced to 9cm. If possible, remove the oldest.

UK-based gardening expert Nigel Colborn says winter pruning of apple and pear trees can be carried out now

UK-based gardening expert Nigel Colborn says winter pruning of apple and pear trees can be carried out now

Reduce congestion in younger fruiting spurs by cutting off the stubby, short shoots. Reduce the amount of buds that are on each spur. You should leave only one or two buds each.

The watershoot, sometimes known as suckers, is usually found in stressed ageing trees. These should not be confused with suckers, which grow from the ground. These are rootstock suckers and should be removed.

Watershoots can be described as long and thin stems that grow vertically from mature trunks or limbs. These should be removed by cutting the stems flush to the trunk. The canopy should be trimmed to increase the tree’s health. Keep grass away from the base of trees.  


You can cut down herbaceous climbing plant such as Chilean glory flowers, everlasting and golden hops for winter. These can be cut at ground level, and any dead or dying tips removed. Next spring, new shoots will grow quickly and appear. You can prune clematis after June 21 to get rid of their blooms.

C. viticella, which is a small- to medium-flowered variety of C. viticella, can be pruned right away. They will grow from the overwintering stems so you don’t have to trim them to ground. They are best left alone if they have become trees.


Winter preparations for petrol-powered mowers are recommended. Do not wait to schedule a service or inspection after the end of the season.

Petrol engines of today are very sensitive to quality fuel. They won’t work if there is any petrol left in their tanks or the engine. Shut down any valves in your fuel-feed pipes. Turn the engine on until it stops. Spending money on super-quality petrol for next year’s mower season or additives to fuel like Hayter Premiumfuel Treatment is worth it. These additives can help prevent issues caused by gasoline ingredients like ethanol.


Nigel says winter flowering heathers have more garden value than almost anything else

Nigel claims that winter flowering heathers offer more value for gardens than anything else

The winter flowering heathers are more valuable than any other garden plant. They are very easy to grow, can tolerate many conditions, and rarely fail. Darley Dale, an older variety but one of the most popular is still available. For the small, but well-organized pale pink flowers, the evergreen foliage provide a nice background. This one, like most winter and spring heathers is happy in well-drained soil acids or alkalines.

Although evergreens can be maintained without any effort, it is a good idea to trim them in spring. These evergreens are compact and can grow in low mounds.


We took over an allotment which was infested with both nettles & bindweed. We are trying to get rid of herbicide. What is the best way to manage this stuff? 

Pauline Blair, via email. 

Use heavy-duty, black polythene to cover the ground. Covering a third or more of the area will allow you to grow crops by clearing it manually. 

Choose the most infested location for your first cultivations. Dig out all weed roots before you plant crops in spring. In autumn, or spring, peel off the polythene to expose the new ground. It is slow but very worthwhile to smother weeds.