Questions on Plants & Pruning

Why is pruning correctly so important?

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Pruning correctly is important for many reasons.

Correct pruning techniques create natural and pleasing shapes of trees, shrubs and most woody plants.

Over time, they establish canopies that allow sun, wind, and wildlife to enter the tree which leads to a better plant health and generally a healthier garden.

Moisture will get into the canopy but will also be able to quickly leave it again. Crowded and overgrown tree and shrub canopies look unpleasant and are breeding places for diseases.

Correct pruning will respect growth points, central leaders, inward and outward pointing laterals, sleeping buds, water shoots, dead wood, diseased wood, criss-crossing branches and many more aspects.

Last but not least, correct pruning which is applied to train your trees into certain individual and natural forms, are an investment into your garden.

A pleasant property, comprising well-maintained plants will

  • give the impression of a garden that doesn’t require much maintenance
  • help to sell the house quicker
  • add real estate value.

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I see gardeners cut trees / shrubs in funny ways. Is that good?

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It is a common thing on the French Riviera to reduce trees and shrubs mainly in their height by cutting back thick branches. Often these cuts are also not done with correct angles and with a well shaped canopy in mind.

Most of the times so-called ‘pollarding’ or ‘coppicing’ techniques are used. Basically these are techniques which were practised in the old times to induce quick growth for harvesting woods for different purposes, like weaving or firewood.

In ornamental gardening they are completely unnatural and do a lot of damage in the long run. They are not proper gardening techniques and should only be in place where e.g. planes have already been planted too densely and where they are already trained that way. Where planes need to stay in a certain height, to give proper shade during the summer time and to prevent storm damages during mistral times, it may be acceptable. But we would still not recommend these techniques in private gardens or parks.

These ‘pruning techniques’ should also never be applied to all woody plants without regards to the specimen. Most trees and shrubs will react negatively, with a very vigorous and chaotic stress growth, which will only result in unpleasant and unmaintainable canopies.

There is no need for these techniques in most private gardens. While they may give the illusion of a quick job done, they will result in unsightly plants that do no good to the rest of the wildlife in your garden. Plus, they double the amount of maintenance work in coming years.

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What do you do against palm diseases?

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There are many different possible palm problems. On the French Riviera Rhynchophorus and Paysandisia have been a nightmare for the past few years and there is little to be done against them.

We will advise you on necessary steps to either ‘vaccinate’ or treat your palm trees. But to be frank with phoenix canariensis there will be no guarantee.

One of the best chances you will create is by planting palm tree species that have proven to be more or less immune against these pests.

Please see our article about palm diseases on the French Riviera, published in the Riviera Insider in the March/April 2016 edition.

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Do I have to prune more often on the Côte d’Azur, or at other times of the year in comparison to northern Europe?

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Yes, it is necessary to prune woody plants more often and one does follow slightly different rhythms.

You may have to prune more often due to a longer growing season on the French Riviera, depending on summer irrigation cycles. You can also cut at any time during the winter, as long as there are no heavy frosts, which almost never applies to the coastal regions of the Côte d’Azur.

When we do special pruning, we rely on English pruning techniques like e.g. the Royal Horticultural Society promotes them.

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When should you cut oleanders?

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Depending on the individual type, oleander should be pruned after blooming. August or early September is a good time. This way new growth won’t be damaged by frosts, if you live in an area with winter frosts. In most Mediterranean climates oleander can be pruned any time after blooming. 

One often hears and reads it won’t bloom next season, when renovated at all or when renovated during winter time. From our experience this is not true. While there might be specimens that won’t bloom, most oleanders that we renovated came back even stronger and started blooming as early as June.

You often hear that oelander is very low maintenance. In our opinion oleander is quite high maintenance due to its vigorous growth and tendency to form many shoots from the ground and become overcrowded and leggy quickly.

But this also depends on personal preferences. If you like overgrown shrubs with a rather natural and sometimes untidy base, oleander won’t need much attention. In these cases little pruning is required to maintain this natural shape.

On the other hand its individual growth habits tend to form broken, weak, criss-crossing and dead branches within one season. All of this should be removed on a regular basis.

From our experience oleander needs regular renovation once it is established after 2-3 years, depending on the pot size, when it got planted.

One does often see that oleander is cut with chain saws or hedge cutters. Both is wrong and will result in a lot of damage to the branches, which will allow diseases to enter the plant. Unfortunately oleander is often times not cut back correctly so that too long ends above the nodes remain, which will almost certainly result in different diseases including oleander canker.

Done correctly, oleanders can be trained into very attractive and tidy, rounded or even tree-like blooming shrubs that will give you joy over decades. Regular renovation of the plant must be in place for this.

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Do you need to prune olives, ever?

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Yes, you do. Whenever you see olive trees that are not cut, e.g. in groves it’s only for reasons of saving money and a lack of skilled labour. It’s not healthy for the tree.

Even if your olive trees will most likely not be for growing fruit and harvesting to produce olive oil, olives are still fruit trees that need some pruning each year. More intense care is needed every 2-3 years.

Most olives are grown as ornamental trees on the French Riviera. In order to give them shape they need to be renovated on a regular basis. In order to keep them in shape they need pruning every year. It will not be harmful though, to prune them every other year. The good news is, that a tree that has been renovated once will only need minor intervention the next year.

If you don’t harvest the olives, the best time to cut olives is summer after blooming. At this time fruit trees are cut to train them into an ornamental shape. Winter or fall pruning will induce a lot of vegetative growth next spring.

For the well-being of olive trees it is highly recommendable to open up the canopy and to help the tree develop a frame work that will be strong enough to withstand mistral winds and eventual snow falls. Leggy growth therefor is never recommended.

If olives are ‘pruned’ by taking back branches radically not only the aesthetical appearance, but also the tree’s value is highly damaged. Olives are never coppiced or pollarded as can be frequently seen on the French Riviera. This technique induces quick overcrowded and bushy vegetative growth.

Coppicing or pollarding is a technique that was used for quickly harvesting fire wood or softwood for basket weaving.

It is possible to train an olive tree into a kind of ‘bonsai’ resembling form.

A sharp hedge like cut on an olive tree, which is en vogue currently – and which is wrongly named ‘bonsai’, is a bad way of pruning a tree – both, health wise and aesthetically. We advise against it.

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I want fruit trees trained to a screen – can you do this?

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Yes, we can do this. It is called cordoning and it is as decorative as it is the perfect solution to not only grow a lot of fruit successfully but to also establish a stylish garden feature.

Espaliers with fruit trees are perfect for narrow areas, to frame a structure of straight garden paths or to establish different garden rooms and separate them with a natural screen.

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When do you cut back plants?

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Most common rules apply to northern climates where plants enter a growth pause sometime during November. During this pause tree saps are not present, woody plants won’t ‘bleed’.

In Mediterranean climates many plants don’t go into a clear cut winter pause. They may slow down their growth a little bit, but they won’t stop growing. So cutting back and pruning has to be done without exact regards to a growing pause anyway.

Generally speaking a radical winter cut will result in a strong growth in spring. A spring, or summer or fall cut will be in place where trees and shrubs are required to receive a shaping, forming, and training cut.

As long as a tree or shrub doesn’t get many of its leaves cut in half by machines and watering is in place, trees and shrubs may be cut at any time of the year. We would advise not to cut during the hottest hours of a day.

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If I were a little unhappy with my gardener how could you help me?

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We get that a lot. Some – not all – gardeners on the French Riviera don’t love their profession enough or don’t apply correct gardening techniques.

Apart from that it’s also important to give a good gardener the necessary time he or she will need to make a good job. 

We can coach you, if you like, so you can tell your gardener what you would like to be done differently.

While you can keep your gardener if you like, we also offer you special pruning services.

We will also try to repair – over time – damages that have happened to your plants through wrong maintenance in the past.

We believe that taking serious money for gardening requires that standard horticultural techniques are in place. Pruning e.g. should always be done in a way that pro-actively trains the plant to grow in a certain way.

The amount of time which is needed for correct pruning is only slightly more than the quick ‘hair cut’ method involving machinery, which does a lot of damage to the plant and creates future health and growth problems. So it’s only a little quicker at first sight, but costlier in the long run.

Good and qualified gardening is not a budget profession. So, going down the cheap garden path will result in paying twice or three times.

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