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Gardening Tips - 2017 - 01 January/February PDF Print E-mail

January, as we know, can be cold; February too, so jobs in the garden are reduced to clearing and cleaning. Also keeping an eye open for frosts – if you are in a frost pocket tender plants should be covered with fleece and pots brought under cover.

Mid-February however brings us to pruning time for nearly every plant. Long ago I asked my gardener to prune certain bushes and he said, “Do you want them pruned the French way or the English way?” and I replied, “There is only one way and that is the correct way!”

Pruning is one of the best things you can do to help a tree or a shrub remain healthy. However, bad pruning is one of the worst things you can do to them. Spend time selecting the best tools for the job and handle them (secateurs especially) before buying to make sure that they are comfortable to use. Never attempt to attack a tree or shrub without the right tool; to try to hack through a thick branch with secateurs is madness; it ruins your tools and damages the tree. This is where a proper pair of loppers or a slender pruning saw is necessary.

How and when to prune –  remember the main reasons we prune: to remove weak branches; to remove dead or diseased wood and remove crossing over branches; to shape a tree or a bush, and revitalise and encourage the maximum flowers or fruit. Now that most trees and shrubs are without their leaves it is much easier to find the dead of diseased wood and to remove all those crossing over branches. All shoots and branches should grow outwards, not inwards, thus allowing maximum air and light reach the centre.

We normally prune evergreen shrubs to control their shape or size, which is usually an individual choice but can be done either in early autumn or early spring. Normally pruning deciduous shrubs depends on when they flower and I give a list below of the most usual ones. Climbers need to be pruned for size and tidiness rather than shape and also to encourage the maximum flowering. Most shrubs need not be pruned for their first three years, and then work on the system of taking out one branch in three when the wood looks old. As a general rule, most shrubs should be pruned directly after flowering and this applies to potentillas, Jasminum nudiflorum, forsythias, chimonanthus praecox, berberis,  coronillas, caryopteris and perovskia.

Wisteria becomes wild and unruly if not kept in check. In summer reduce whippy green shoots that have grown in spring back to about five or six leaves; this encourages flowers. In January and/or February cut all these growths back again to two or three buds. If the plant is old look for worn-out growths which should be cut right back to allow newer, healthier shoots to establish themselves.

Trachelospermum needs little pruning but congested, weak or badly placed shoots can be taken out to improve the shape of the bush. If the shrub is old a more drastic measures should be taken in cutting all the shoots back by two-thirds. Gloves essential: the sap is a real irritant.

Campsis grandflora – now is the time for a hard prune, back to two or three buds on the main stem. Also remove weak growth or crossing over branches. This plant enjoys a good, hard prune every year to encourage an abundance of flowers.

All hybrid tea roses can be pruned during the second half of February   As I have said before cut them right down to two to three outward growing buds and remove any  inward growing branches, the idea being to let in light and air. Ramblers, if well established, will only need to be tidied up by cutting some of the old wood branches down to the ground to give a chance for young shoots, and shorten side shoots back one third to a half to encourage new branches. Ditto for climbing roses; only cut out old, woody branches to make way for young, vigorous shoots. On no account cut the leader unless you need to curtail the growth of your climber. Once the leader is gone it is very difficult to establish newer growth.

Buddelias – here you have to be careful because there are those that flower in early spring and those that flower in summer. The general rule is to prune hard to about half the size of the bush as soon as flowering has finished. If you consistently dead-head summer flowering buddleias they will reward you with more flowers for a long time.

The approved rule for all silver-leaved plants is to cut them back in the spring but I, contrary to received wisdom, cut them back in the autumn – don’t do it if you are nervous – and this only applies to the South of France, not England where frosts can arrive as early as October. This list includes teucriums, balottas, helichrysums and centureas.

Abelias – grandiflora, Schumannii etc. need not be pruned until they are 3 years old (this also applies to many other flowering shrubs such as Deutzias) and this should be done in later winter/early spring.   Remember abelias flower on new wood so do not prune if spring growth has already begun. Normally take out one in three of the thickest interior stems at ground level and continue to reduce the bush to about one third of its size.

Lavatera – tree mallow should be pruned in February every single year otherwise it becomes leggy and loses some of its flowers. Prune right down to the new leaf growth and you should have flowers from June onwards. The best varieties are Barnsley and Rosea.

Hydrangea macrophylla “mophead”: ­unless you dislike the look of the deadheads, do not remove them until the following spring and then cut back to the first healthy pair of buds. Not much pruning is required, so only take out old wood if necessary down to the ground to encourage new growth. If bushes are very old or neglected cut off all the stems – you will lose the flower heads in the coming summer but you will rejuvenate the plant for the following years.

And now for details of two pruning gurus: if you need a fully trained tree surgeon to tackle large trees, especially ones threatening buildings, pools, glass roofs, etc. or to treat palm trees against the dreaded moth – paysandisia archon -  and beetle – rhynchophorus ferrugineus - infestations Cyril Valherie is your man, see lamouissone.com for further details. In my garden for some years I have been delighted with Stephen Scrace at The Cutting Edge, (062207224) Stephen@trees.fr. In particular I have some runaway roses clambering up tall pine trees which are impossible for me to tackle, but Stephen has done excellent work keeping them and other trees in check, and they look all the better for his deft attentions.

Joanna Millar - garden enthusiast