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Winter Pruning in a Mediterranean climate Garden – Why You Should Postpone Pruning Until the End of Winter - by Jonathan Yaakobi

Most home gardeners in a Mediterranean climate associate winter with the annual pruning of trees and shrubs. They see some of the woody plants out of leaf and half remembering that plants should be pruned when in their dormancy, rush out with the saw, loppers and secateurs for a good session.

Timing is in fact essential when it comes to pruning, and therefore it is crucial to understand the connection between the weather conditions prevailing in a Mediterranean type winter, and the effect that pruning has on the health and vitality of the trees and bushes. When both these parameters are put together, it becomes clear that pruning should be put-off until the end of the winter.

Mediterranean climate winters are typically mild and cool with periodic rainstorms coincident with relatively cold snaps. In the hilly regions, or in valley bottoms, temperature lows might reach down to -6c, conditions, which while precluding many cold-sensitive species, are favorable to deciduous plants such as grape vines or roses. Often though, extended periods of warm, dry weather are common, with temperatures settling around 18-20c or more, only for cold snaps to return later in the winter.

It is this alternating between warm and cold that is liable to cause problems. The reason is that pruning induces dormant buds to sprout, and soft, tender, juvenile growth to develop, only for this growth to be hammered by a late frost. Damage to the young tissue is not only a source of bacterial and fungal infection, it also means that the plant has wasted valuable energy that it cannot easily recoup.

The Golden Rule of Thumb

On the other hand though, it is best to prune deciduous trees and bushes during their dormancy, because pruning in the spring, causes the plant tissue to “bleed” the sap that is rising at this time; resulting in serious loss in nutrients and energy potential.

Pruning can be thus be timed to 5-6 weeks before the last frost is likely to occur, which is the approximate time scale for new growth to sprout from a pruning cut. So if in your area, frosts do not occur after the middle of March, it is safe to prune around the beginning of February.

The mild winters in many Mediterranean type regions, allow the gardener to grow many tropical and sub-tropical species that are marginal in terms of their hardiness to cold. Some of these lose their foliage when the temperatures drop, but this does not mean that they react to cold conditions like naturally deciduous plants. (i.e. species that originate from cold-temperate climates) On the contrary, as they tend to be particularly susceptible to cold, they should be regarded, when it comes to pruning, as evergreens.

Evergreen Trees and Bushes

Evergreen species, conifers excluded, are generally far less cold hardy than deciduous ones, so they should not be touched at all during the winter. As the problem with rising sap does not apply to evergreens, it is safe to prune them either in the spring or in the summer.

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Jonathan Ya'akobi

Your Personal Gardening Coach

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