The time has come to bring out the ruthless streak in gardeners, although perhaps not surprisingly, being the caring bunch of folk that we are, this is usually easier said than done.
It's pruning time for many plants which at this time of year means some quite drastic action.
This brutal task is often overlooked by the squeamish, but relished by the rest of us for there is much satisfaction to be gained by reducing a large shrub to almost nothing, safe in the knowledge that this time next year you will be back to repeat the task.
Before you go grabbing your loppers and get too carried away it's vitally important to understand exactly what and why you are pruning at this time of year if you are a beginner.
Our targets are shrubs that flower after June as well as shrubs which need to produce a mass of young fresh growth each year, such as dogwoods.
We are aiming to stimulate a burst of new growth at the very start of the spring to generate strong, vigorous and fresh growth throughout the following year. How do we do this? We get rid of all last year's growth, which by nature of the plant and as a result of our pruning techniques can be very plentiful.
Cornus (dogwoods) and salix (willow), both commonly grown for their colourful and interesting stems and young foliage are prime targets for the loppers.
Wait until the new leaves are just beginning to shoot and prune every stem down to within a finger's length of the soil. This very productive and safe technique is called "stooling", which will induce a plentiful mass of shoots from the remaining base. I would usually recommend this be applied to cornus and salix every second year.
Eucalyptus gunnii is a popular shrub, primarily valued for its steely blue round leaves which are only produced on the young growth. It's a very vigorous plant, and left unchecked will soar away into the clouds. Apply the stooling technique I have described each year and you will be rewarded with beautiful fresh plentiful foliage on manageable plant never exceeding 8ft high.
To keep the butterflies happy buddleias should be pruned hard in order to produce compact flowering growth. Although not necessary to stool down to the ground I suggest this does make a much prettier plant and is easy for beginners to grasp.
Otherwise leave to produce a main framework, removing all of last year's growth.
The golden cut-leaved elder (sambucus racemosa plumosa aurea) creates a beautiful mound of fresh golden-yellow foliage, a perfect contrast to other plants, especially when pruned to within a few inches of the ground annually, although allow a framework to develop at the base.
While I have focused on those plants requiring more drastic pruning, other late flowering shrubs can shortly be pruned, although be it a little less aggressively.
Be careful with plants such as hydrangeas and caryopteris, which, if pruned too early, could be damaged by frost.
* Julian Ranson is Notcutts garden centre manager, Stratford Road, Shirley, Solihull.