Spring clean. In the garden!

Prune your plants now and you will enjoy a beautiful garden this summer.

TThe winter on the Côte d’Azur, that, a hundred years ago, attracted the rich and famous from London, Berlin and Paris in droves, lures with many serene days and mild temperatures, usually between 12 and 16 degrees. On windless sunny days, you might start sweating while strolling on the Rue d’Antibes in Cannes, the déjeuner outside puts a fresh tan on your face and in the garden of the beloved holiday home suddenly everything grows uncontrollably. And here’s the problem, which is, in fact, not really one, but to this we’ll be getting later.

It’s time! To cut! To tidy up! To groom and get back into shape!
Why now? You may ask this, while looking out of the window in London, New York or Brussels in frustration, because it is 10 ° colder than here. And absolutely nothing grows right now in your place. If you don’t happen to spend a couple of wonderful days here in the south, you would never consider this being high season – for the garden. So let’s get started:

Palm trees can now be cleaned up and pruned. For example: the only native palm in the south of France, the dwarf palm (Chamaerops humilis), now has mature, grape-shaped infructesences, which, depending on the degree of ripeness, shine orange to chestnut brown. These ripe fruits must be cut off, because once they have burst on the ground, you will soon have hundreds of palm sprouts in the garden, rooting so deeply that they can hardly be pulled out by hand. After that the Chamaerops must be cleaned up from the bottom and from the inside; ugly leaves and too much bast, superfluous shoots on the ground, this needs to be carefully cut off close to the trunk to bring the plant back into shape. At the same time, care must be taken to check whether the palm has been attacked by pests. If you see something like a resinous, brown “nest” relatively high up on the trunk or directly in the crown, as if the palm fibers were stuck together, then this is a sign of Paysandisia infestation. The orange butterfly loves palm trees and is to blame for the palms dying on the Cote d’Azur.

For a lot of woody plants – like trees and shrubs – the time for a rejuvenation cut is now. What’s this? This cut, in contrast to the mere shape cut in the summer, is done to accelerate the vegetative growth of plants in spring and is an enormous support to the plants health. We not only strive to create a beautiful form, we literally clean up the plant from the inside: Branches that grow wrong and overlap with others (“criss-cross growth”), dead wood and also just “too much” material are taken out in the right way. The plant must be able to breathe and be airy, it is also less susceptible to diseases, especially fungi and molds; the sun again reaches the inside of the plant and the ground, and birds and insects are given room to frolic.

To the most typical trees of the Riviera belong olives and citrus trees such as tangerines, bitter oranges and lemons. Just now is harvest time – joyful for the few who still preserve olives or cook delicious orange jam. But depending on the local climate, this time is slowly coming to an end and that is exactly the moment when olives and citrus trees have to be pruned. Both are fruit trees and so the rule how to prune fruit trees applies for both: the tree must be opened from the inside and needs to be trimmed thoughtfully. Especially citrus trees are often a single jumble of small branches and tons of leaves, deadwood and rotten fruits, these trees just love to overgrow. But that does not do them any good at all and that’s why you have to help them stay healthy. If dropped down fruits remain under citrus trees, mushrooms and spores go into the soil, which, then full of harmful substances, sends these back to the tree. If you see curly, rolled-up leaves on your mandarin or bitter orange tree, or if these are yellow: this is not normal, but signs of nutrient deficiency, diseases, a wrong location or water problems, which here mostly go back to the soil composition.

Now a word about the selection of tools: You may already have made the experience that most gardeners in the region shave EVERYTHING with chainsaws or automatic hedge trimmers. Many of you may also think that this is normal and plant friendly. No, it’s not! Of course you can cut a conifer hedge with the machine, but not olives, delicate citrus trees or even oleander! It will be completely destroyed afterwards, for everyone to see. The same applies to Pittosporum, Laurel, Viburnum, Elaeagnus and many other soft-leaved shrubs. When they are cut with the hedge trimmer, it looks like a combine harvester has gone over it! The wood is mostly shredded and rather demolished than sharply separated, the leaves are cut, which should never happen at all. Pathogens invade the plant quickly and your gardener has more and more work to do without improving your garden. You can not really want that.

One can and should cut these plants by hand, and that takes, if done right, not necessarily longer than multiple cuts with the hedge trimmer. There are indeed good, professional pruning shears – from the small rose scissors to the giant pruning shears. These tools work beautifully and make sense for the health and beauty of your plants. Your shrubs and trees are not so badly injured, grow more beautiful, recover quickly from the trim and will then look just beautiful “in the season”. And if it’s done right, cutting only once or twice a year can be absolutely sufficient.