By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

Practical gardeners and authors living in Spain for 25 years

As soon as there is a sunny January day we get out into the garden to start our winter cutback and clean up, even between the New Year and Los Reyes. It gives good post New Year celebrations exercise and it could rain later in the month.

As highlighted in our book Your Garden in Spain – From planning to planting and maintenance the main garden cut back is done in the winter in Spain rather than in the autumn in northern Europe. There are several reasons for this:

  • Many shrubs can be encouraged to flower through the autumn, even right through to Christmas.
  • Most plants and trees – except for evergreens- are dormant and the sap is down.
  • If plants are allowed to flower beyond Christmas they tend to go leggy and if not cut back now they will be late to flower in the spring or early summer.
  • Plants have a good clean up and shaping before they start to bud and grow in earnest.
  • The soil is cleared of rubbish and weeds while there is maximum space between plants.
  • Obviously winter flowering plants are not pruned back until they have finished flowering.

The five main tasks:

  1. Cut back and shape all perennials, shrubs and trees appropriate to their age, format and size in relation to the size of your garden.
  2. Clear all accumulated leaves and weeds from planted areas terraces and paths.
  3. Divide up and replant large clumps of perennials.
  4. Loosen the surface of the soil and mulch as many plants as possible to reduce summer water losses by evaporation.
  5. Shred and compost as much as possible of the prunings and rubbish.

Plant by plant guidelines.

This a selection from the plant b plant guidelines included in Chapter 6.9 of Your Garden in Spain.

  • Hibiscus – Shorten branches by 20 to 50 centimetres. Propagate new plants from the longer cuttings.
  • Begonias – the rampant pink flowered Podranea variety needs a heavy cut back but just train others to shape.
  • Bougainvilleas – prune young plants gently to shape but cut back well established plants hard taking out the long non-flowering water shoots.
  • Hedges – close cut and reduce height of established hedges if need be.
  • Autumn flowering bulbs – remove dead leaves.
  • Evergreen trees – trim to shape and size appropriate to your garden. Start or trim topiary features.
  • Pond plants – cut back and thin reeds and irises and every couple of years lift out clumps of plants in the water and thin.
  • Cordylines – pull off dead leaves and cut off dead flower heads.
  • Lantanas – cut back trailing varieties to half, hard prune others.

Remember that the more you prune and shape now the better the spring and summer garden will look.

Clodagh and Dick’s books

If you do not have them yet they can be obtained from high street and internet shops plus

Autographed books can be obtained from the latter which also has a free offer of Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden when you buy a copy of Your Garden in Spain, Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style, Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain and Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain.

(c) Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2011.