The big cutback continues and the idiot son joins in

By now you should be at least half way through your big annual garden cutback. You should have firstly shaped up the overall structure of your garden, this should have been followed by pruning grasses and shrubs etc, then small trees, bushes and vines. We are now heading towards pruning Roses, hedges and the inevitable battle with trees, especially my large Bay tree. If you get all this done before any growth starts then your garden will burst back to life in the Spring with renewed vigour.

The next stage of my annual cutback has been given added piquancy by the supposed help from our idiot son who has been home for Christmas. Cruella (my wife) has been in mothering ecstasy since his return; she has fed him night and day like a giant cuckoo chick and has allowed him to drink all my best wine. Every morning we have to watch videos of him as a baby interspersed with old episodes of “Bewitched” (Cruella was the witchcraft and spells coordinator on the show).

Let’s get on with the gardening!

4th January. Things I have been doing lately:

🥭 Pruning figs. I have two fig trees. One standard that is now about 12 years old, and one which is an espalier I have been growing up a wall for about 6 years. The secret with fig tree pruning is to do it regularly otherwise the tree will just get away from you and produce its best fruits 20 feet in the air. Figs are produced on old wood so you need to be building a structure of branches that remain within easy reach.

Start off by cutting back any diseased or crossing branches. Next reduce the overall size to keep the fruit within your reach. You should be aiming for a wide but open structure that lets light into the centre of the tree. Pruning my espalier is different. Here I first take off all the stems facing into the wall. I then aim to train one stem along each of my espalier wires. The eventual aim with this fig is to cover the entire wall with trained branches bearing fruit.

The photos below show the figs before and after their annual prune. Don’t worry they will grow back vigorously and will be sprouting leaves in a few weeks. Click on each photo for a larger view.


🍊 Chopping down old fruit trees. Most Spanish homes have one or more fruit trees. Orange and Lemon are the most common. Often these trees are just left to themselves, never pruned, never fed and seldom watered. The end result is old, gnarled and unproductive trees that look messy and produce a few undersize fruits. If you want good productive trees then you have to do some work. I won’t dwell on this at the moment but will cover this subject in a month or so after all my fruit is off the trees.

However, one thing you should be doing now is looking to replace old and unproductive trees. I have one orange tree that needs to come out. I have pruned it hard in the past and got a few more years out of it, but now it has to go. In my efforts to remove the tree I was assisted by my idiot son who insisted on being in charge of the chainsaw. With old trees the first job is to take them down to a stump. Once the stump has been left I will drill into it in a few weeks and add “root out” to kill off any growth. In the autumn I will use an axe to remove the by then rotted stump. You can get the stump ground out but it is difficult to find people in Spain to do this.

It is not possible to plant a new tree into the same area as the old tree as the soil will be depleted and the roots will be everywhere in the soil. In this case I will move the tree planting area a few metres to the left of the existing tree, in this way I will keep the same linear structure in my orchard and utilise existing irrigation pipes. The new tree needs to be in the ground within a month before everything begins to heat up. The photos below show the idiot son playing out the role of lumberjack. Click on each photo for a larger view.

At one point he was holding it by the wrong end.


🪵 Cutting back the giant Yucca. I have a giant Yucca that needs cutting back every five years or so. When I originally cut it back it was over 30 feet tall, and, since it’s last cut back it is now almost 20 feet again. When you cut yuccas back you can be quite brutal as they are canes and will grow again relatively quickly. One of the benefits of keeping your yuccas a manageable size is that the lovely flower spikes will once again be at eye level as opposed to 20 foot in the air.

If you are cutting back a multi-stem yucca as this one is, then it is important not to cut all the trunks to the same level. Instead you should cut them at different levels as this will stop the new growth crowding each other and will create a more rounded pleasing plant. The photos below show the big yucca before its prune and then afterwards. The idiot son arrived after I had done all the work and insisted on posing with the pruned plant; for some reason Cruella (my wife) is convinced that he should give up banking and instead become a lumberjack model! Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌳 Pruning standards. If you have grown any plants as long stem standards then you will know by now that they are in danger of blowing over in the current high winds. The big problem with standards in pots is always the dilemma of whether you put them in plastic or ceramic pots. Of course ceramic is much better, but if the pot is not big and weighty enough then it will blow over and smash, which can be expensive. Plastic meanwhile is cheap, but, does not look as nice and can lead to roots overheating.

The solution is big weighty ceramic pots whilst keeping the flowering ball relatively small and tight. By this method you will stop wind rock on the pots. My two standards are either side of a side swimming pool gate, this area is both hot and can be windy. The photos below show the untrimmed standards and then in their final state. To keep them safe I prune 2 or 3 times during the growing season. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Author: spanishgarden

I live in both Spain and the UK and am a very keen gardener. I garden every day and enjoy sharing all the secrets that God allows us to discover in our gardens.

One thought on “The big cutback continues and the idiot son joins in”

  1. Figs produce twice annually. First they produce on old growth from the previous year. Then, they produce on growth of the same year. The second phase of fruit is what lingers as the trees defoliate. However, some cultivars produce better early, and other produce better late. Minimal pruning promotes early production, by leaving much of the growth from the previous year, but inhibits late production. Aggressive pruning inhibits early production, by removing much of the growth from the previous year, but promotes late production by stimulating vigorous new growth. Some cultivars get pruned so that they can produce both early and late. Early and late fruit is different, with some of it better for eating fresh, and some better for drying.

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