How to Prune Mediterranean Plants
For many of us the thought of a helpless plant having its limbs hacked off by a human evokes a sense of horror and the feeling that the poor plant is suffering a terrible, un-natural ordeal in the process. However by leaving certain plants without correct pruning we are in actual fact creating far more suffering and hardship for those plants and there are some very logical yet natural reasons why...
Many plants in their natural habitat suffer seemingly catastrophic events, which at first glance would appear to be disastrous for their survival. Take a forest fire for example, in a natural situation forest fires can develop frequently and can often destroy vast swathes of woodland, leaving an apparent destruction in their wake. Many plants however rely on those forest fires for their survival and have become quite used to the arrival of this totally natural phenomena.
Therefore when we take a common plant like Spanish broom (Spartium junceum), which relies on fire to remain lush and healthy, from its natural habitat on a Mediterranean hillside and plant it in our safe gardens we have already isolated that plant from most of the natural phenomena that determine its survival. In a garden it will rarely be set ablaze by the violent lightening strikes during the hot, dry summers and will therefore not be burnt to the ground during that period. Pruning, in theory, should therefore somehow aim to replicate the occurrence of natural events within the safe environment of our gardens and provide the plant with a series of interventions that replicate its natural state as closely as possible and make it feel... at home.
A Spanish broom that is left to grow for several years without a renovating prune will simply become congested and decidedly unhappy, causing about as much pain and suffering as possible! The difficulty comes when trying to figure out which plants need what kind of pruning and when.
Plants can be divided into several groups, regarding their pruning requirements:
GROUP ONE - DECIDUOUS SHRUBS:
are among a large number of plants that require little or no pruning, such as Magnolias and Acers etc and really only require the occasional branch removed at planting to develop a healthy shape.
GROUP TWO - FLOWERING DECIDUOUS SHRUBS:
such as Rosemary, Forsythia, Deutzia or Kolwitzia which flower in spring or early summer produce their flower- bearing shoots during the previous growing season and if left un-pruned can become overgrown and slowly produce less flowers and predominantly at the tips of their stems- on the new growth. Such plants should be pruned after flowering to allow for new growth to develop during the growing season, which will provide flowers for the following year. A simple removal of old, flowered stems will ensure the reproduction of healthy, flower-bearing growth for the following season.
GROUP TWO EXCEPTIONS:
There are however exceptions to this category, including; Deutzias, mop-head Hydrangeas and Spanish broom that make most of their new growth from the base of the plant. Shrubs in this sub-category should have their old, flowered stems removed right down to ground-level after flowering to ensure a cycle of reproductive growth.
GROUP THREE - FLOWERS PRODUCED ON CURRENT SEASONS GROWTH:
plants that flower in the summer or autumn on the current seasons growth, which include; Lavender, Ceanothus, certain Hydrangeas and Perowskia etc. These plants require a hard prune in early spring to stimulate the growth that will carry the flowers for the same season.
By following these simple rules one can begin to develop a garden that follows natural rhythms very closely yet at that same time provide you with the maximum flowering potential, a very happy plant and an extremely natural garden indeed!
By Jonathon Radford