Yes, I know that Christmas is gone and that you are left fat, with no sense of purpose and an empty wallet, but the real fun is about to begin. It’s time for the big annual cut back – hooray! Here in Spain from late December and throughout January you need to cut back all of your perennials, bushes, trees etc; but not succulents. You need to do this for three reasons: First, to reshape your plants; if you don’t you will get uncontrolled growth that will leave you garden looking like a burst cushion. Second, by cutting back you can get rid of weak, diseased and crossing growth that is stopping light reaching the centre of the plant. Third and most importantly it’s great fun and you get to use all your dangerous bits of garden equipment – what’s not to like. Finally in the words of Cruella (my wife) who has been reading a book on motivational Psychotherapy over Christmas – “get out in that garden fat boy”.
30th December: Things I have been doing lately
✂️ Cutting back Canna. You will of course remember that a few posts ago I tied up my Cannas and left them to die back in order that all the goodness from the stems would be fed back into the Corms (ugly bulbs). Well now is the time to cut them right back. With Cannas you need to cut the stems back to about 4 inches from the ground. This length will stop them trying to grow again on last years growth and will also keep the cut and drying stems away from infection by the soil.
The first photo below shows one of my Canna clumps ready for its big cut back. The second photo shows the stems cut back and ready for new growth. The marked areas on the second photo show where the corm has thrown up new plants outside of where I want them. In a few weeks I will dig down and cut these off the mother plant and replant elsewhere. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).
💐 Pruning Roses. One of the first plants you need to tackle in the big cut back is Roses. As a rule of thumb, Roses need to be cut back severely. However, before you rush out and hack all your Roses down to the ground it is important that you differentiate between climbers and standard Roses. Climbing Roses are not cut to the ground. Instead you should only do the following:
- Leave the overall height of the plant as you want it to grow and climb.
- Cut out all diseased, crossing or weak branches.
- cut back all side branches by two thirds.
By the end of this process you should have taken away a lot of the side bulk of the plant and encouraged upward growth and new flowering stems ready for the flowers. The first photo below shows one of my climbing Roses before it’s annual prune. The second photo shows it’s new svelte figure. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).
Standard Roses are tackled differently. If they are relatively new (in their first year), then cut them back only by a third. If however they are already well established then you can be quite brutal. I will take some plants back to a couple of inches from the ground depending on their stem structure. Again follow the same rules as climbing Roses in terms of cutting out diseased, crossing or weak branches. But then cut the whole thing back to 2 or 3 inches from the ground. Try and aim for a nice open shape of the stems – a bit like a champagne glass – to ensure plenty of light gets into the centre of the plant. The first photo below shows one of my Rose beds ready for pruning whilst the second shows another pruned back. From the second photo you can see that perennial grasses sneak in and grow under the Rose stems. This results in my annual battle to remove the grasses; it not only takes a long time, but also results in severe blood loss, by the end I am positively anaemic. (Click on each photo for an enlarged view).
🍁 Continue clearing up leaves. By now every leaf should be off your deciduous trees and you should now rake everything up. It is important that you do this for two reasons. Firstly, if left on the soil or gravelled area the leaves will initially smother anything that is underneath them. But secondly, and more importantly they will eventually break down to a fine tilth that will clog your gravelled areas up and present an ideal medium for weeds. The first photo below shows the last of the leaves under my Mulberry tree ready for raking up. The second photo shows the leaves placed into a bag, which I aerate by making holes with a fork. The bag is then set aside for six months to compost down and then added to my compost bins. Cruella (my wife) laughed when she saw the second photo and said if I included it people would think I was stupid. But she has no soul and doesn’t understand the miracle of composting.
😢 Nero has had an operation. For those of you interested in cute photographs of animals I include below a photo of Nero one of our Labradors. Nero snapped all the ligaments in one of his back legs and now has pins holding his leg on (at great expense). The gardening link is that Nero is the dog who given half a chance will dig up the lawn. I took him for a walk on the beach and he was chasing a ball when his leg just gave way. Cruella claims that I did it on purpose to get my own back on him. But she wasn’t the one carrying the fat, wet sandy sod a quarter of a mile back to the car. And anyway, he started it first.