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
Healthy, abundant fruit -
the product of proper pruning
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
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.
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
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.