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The Grumpy Gardener - Hints & Tips

With Mike Alexander
In this section of the French News Online "Lifeslyle" Section, professional gardener Michael Alexander, takes us, gently, through those tasks you should be tackling in the garden this month

Fruit trees need pruning
Healthy, abundant fruit -
the product of proper pruning

A Soggy Hat and a Disgruntled Frown
January is probably not the best month to start a gardening column. It may be the first month of the calendar year but on the ground it can feel like something out of Ice Age II, with summer just an elusive dream.

Even the most optimistic of glossy garden magazines is recommending building bird houses and sitting in front of a cosy fire with a pile of the latest seed catalogues. As a working gardener I am not sure that many of my clients would feel they were getting value for money if they found me, feet up, in front of their poele, cup of tea in one hand and seed catalogue in the other surrounded by a small lotissement of bird habitation. In order to be really happy they need to see me in foul weather gear wearing mud heavy boots, a soggy hat and a disgruntled frown.

Pruning Apples and Pear
All is not gloom and doom however and this is a month for getting ahead on one of the years most enjoyable tasks. Pruning apples and pears can start now and if you are lucky enough to be able to wait for one of the brighter days this can be a really pleasant and rewarding task. The late Geoff Hamilton used to like to get his apples pruned by Christmas, but I find that here in France we can have some really hard frosts so I tend to leave my pruning until into the new year so the buds that develop after pruning will have a little less harsh weather to face.

I prune back by about 30% on last years growth


French Disapproval
I always start by cutting out dead and crossing wood before opening up the centre of the tree. Only then do I prune back about thirty percent of the previous years growth to leave myself with a neat healthy tree for the coming season. This system works well for me but frequently earns me disapproval from the French who tend to prune much harder than I dare to. I have even lost clients over this, with people thinking they have not had their pound of my flesh until the tree looks like a military recruit, even though it is often harder to prune softly than it is to cut whole branches hard back.

Hard pruning encourages the tree to push out more growth, frequently in the form of rapidly growing straight branches that quickly dominate the tree and don't produce any fruit. The gentler approach is more in alignment with nature, I feel, than a more aggressive attack, but perhaps I am just being a wimp.

If the weather is not too harsh, spike the lawn with a garden fork and hoe winter weeds out of beds if you can reach them without walking on the damp soil.

There is often snow around at this time of year and it really will damage trees and shrubs unless you shake it off. This will involve a certain amount of snow dropping down the back of your neck but the discomfort is in a good cause, so grit your teeth and dream of spring.

Grumpy Gardener
Our Grumpy Gardener has been professionally gardening in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Article: Mike Alexander

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